An inmate approaches you at morning med line and asks for his medication. When he gives you his name and identification number you are unable to find a corresponding Medication Administration Record (MAR) and there is no medication with his name on it in the drawer. This is the psych step down unit so he is probably correct to expect to have medication. When asked he tells you that he arrived on the unit last evening from 3E, the acute psych unit. You tell him that there is no medication for him on the cart and that you will contact the pharmacy and will get back to him later that morning. You are thinking that his medication is still in the med cart on 3E and will call the nurse on the unit as soon as you get back to the clinic.
Does this example sound familiar? How many times are you approached to administer a medication and it is not there? It could be because the inmate was just admitted to the facility or just saw the provider and the medication hasn’t been received from the pharmacy. It could be that the inmate was transferred from one unit to another and his or her medication was not transferred to the new location. Maybe the inmate just returned from an off-site procedure and the provider hasn’t reviewed the specialist’s recommendations.
Each admission, provider visit, transfer or change in level of care is an opportunity for omission, duplication, dosing errors, drug-drug interactions and drug-disease interactions to occur and with it the potential for an adverse patient outcome. Almost half of all medication errors in the general health care community occur because medication is not reconciled adequately when there is a handoff in responsibility for the patient’s care and 20% of these result in harm to the patient. Transitions in the responsibility for an inmate’s health care have the same risk. Medication reconciliation prevents mistakes in patient care.
The Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the Joint Commission recommend reconciling medication whenever there is a change in the patient’s setting, condition, provider or level of care required. In corrections medication reconciliation is done when inmates at admission report taking medication prescribed by providers in the community. These medications will need orders to continue or the inmate’s treatment modified by the provider at the correctional facility assuming responsibility for the patient’s care. Medication reconciliation also takes place when an inmate returns to the facility after receiving specialty care in the community, upon admission and discharge from infirmary or another type of inpatient care and whenever their primary care provider changes. There are only three simple steps involved in reconciliation. These are:
- Verify the name, dosage, time and route of the medication (s) taken or recommended.
- Clarify the appropriateness of the medication and dosing.
- Reconcile and document any changes between what is reported or recommended.
The following paragraphs discuss how medication reconciliation is done at several key points in correctional health care.
When Inmates Arrive at a Facility
Intake screening routinely includes an inquiry into what medications an inmate is taking. Sometimes this question is only briefly discussed. However, if an inmate reports recent hospitalization or receipt of health care in an ambulatory care setting it would be a good idea to inquire again about what medications may have been recommended or prescribed. The same is recommended if an inmate reports having a chronic condition. It may be that they are not currently taking medication because they can’t afford it or were unable to obtain the medication for another reason. Inquiry about medications should also include the inmate’s use of over-the-counter or other alternative treatments.
Offenders arriving at a facility from the community, especially jails and juvenile facilities, may have medications on their person and sometimes, family will bring in medications after learning their family member has been detained. It is best practice to verify that the medication received is the same as that on the label. There are several excellent sites for verification of drugs including Drugs.com, Pillbox, and Epocrates.com. Once verified, document the name of the medication, dose, and frequency, date of filling, quantity remaining, physician, pharmacy and prescription number.
Whether it is the inmate’s report or the inmate has brought in their own medication the prescription must next be verified with the pharmacy or community prescriber. Once this is done, notify the institution provider who will determine if the medication should be started urgently so there is no lapse in treatment or if the patient should wait until seen for evaluation.
When Inmates Return From Offsite care
Medication should also be reconciled whenever a patient returns to the facility from a hospitalization or specialty care. The clinical summary or recommendations by the offsite provider should accompany the patient, if not, the nurse should obtain this information right away. Recommendations from off-site specialists or hospital discharge instructions should be reviewed as soon as possible by the nurse and provider in order to continue the patient’s care. When clinical recommendations from off-site care are missed or not followed up on needed treatment is delayed and the patient’s health may deteriorate.
When Inmates Are Followed in Chronic Care Clinic
Chronic care patients are another group that require nursing attentiveness to medication reconciliation including:
- Evaluating whether the patient is actually taking it as ordered.
- Following up whenever the medication or the patient is not available and if so, getting scheduled doses to the patient promptly. Also helping the patient to request refills and reorders in time may be necessary so doses are not missed. Also account for the whereabouts of each no show so that medication can be provided as scheduled.
- Coaching the patient about what to discuss with their provider if they want to make a change or are having side effects. Often patients who want to change or discontinue prescribed treatment will refuse single doses or not pick up their KOP medications. Each of these lapses should be discussed, the patient coached about the next steps to take and the provider notified as well.
When Medications Are Missing
When patients come to the pill cart or widow expecting to receive medication and there is either no medication or MAR asking the patient a few questions as listed below will narrow down where the medication may be located:
- when was the last dose received (this indicates there is an active prescription and will help determine the urgency for resolution)?
- If the inmate says that he or she haven’t had any medication yet, ask when they saw the provider who ordered it? (maybe the prescription has not been dispensed yet or it has arrived but hasn’t been unpacked and put away).
Other questions to help narrow down the problem are:
- if they have been moved recently from another part of the facility (medication and MAR were not transferred).
- when did they arrive at the facility or were transferred from another (check the transfer sheet, medications and MAR were not transferred).
- is it a prescription brought in from the community (may be stored elsewhere)?
- if they have gone by any other names (may be filed elsewhere).
Based upon the answers to these question you may instruct the patient to wait (i.e. “It was just written last night and hasn’t been filled yet, please check back tomorrow.”) or tell the patient that you will look for it and administer it at by at least the next pill call. If you are not able to resolve the problem promptly be sure to assess the patient to determine if the provider should be contacted. Allowing patients to miss medication, even if somebody else is responsible, is equivalent to not providing treatment that is ordered and can be a serious violation of a patient’s constitutional rights in the correctional setting, much less exacerbate their medical condition.
Easing the Burden of Medication Reconciliation
Other recommendations to ease the burden of medication reconciliation from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement are:
- Identify responsibilities for medication reconciliation such as standardizing where information about current medications is located, specifying who is responsible for gathering information about medications and when medication reconciliation is to take place, establishing a time frame for resolution of variances and standardizing documentation of medication variance and resolution.
- Use standardized forms to ensure that information about medications is elicited and documented.
- Establish explicit time frames for when medication is to be reconciled and variances resolved such as within 24 hours of admission, within four hours of identification of variance in high risk medications (antihypertensives, anti seizure, antibiotics, etc.), at every primary care visit.
- Educate patients about their medications and their role in reconciliation at every transition in care.
When do you obtain information about the medications a patient takes and how do you verify the patient’s information? Do you provide patients with a list of the medications they take? What is the patient’s role in medication reconciliation at your facility?
If you wish to comment, offer advice about medication reconciliation in correctional health care please do so by responding in the comments section of this post.
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