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Pharmacotherapy. 2002 Jul;22(7):915-23.

Drug-related visits to the emergency department: how big is the problem?

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  • 1Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network, Ontario, Canada.



To review the literature concerning drug-related problems that result in emergency department visits, estimate the frequency of these problems and the rates of hospital admissions, and identify patient risk factors and drugs that are associated with the greatest risk.


A systematic search of MEDLINE (January 1966-December 2001), EMBASE (January 1980-December 2001), and PubMed (January 1966-December 2001) databases for full reports published in English was performed. The Ottawa Valley Regional Drug Information Service database of nonindexed pharmacy journals also was searched.


Data from eight retrospective and four prospective trials retrieved indicated that as many as 28% of all emergency department visits were drug related. Of these, 70% were preventable, and as many as 24% resulted in hospital admission. Drug classes often implicated in drug-related visits to an emergency department were nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, anticonvulsants, antidiabetic drugs, antibiotics, respiratory drugs, hormones, central nervous system drugs, and cardiovascular drugs. Common drug-related problems resulting in emergency department visits were adverse drug reactions, noncompliance, and inappropriate prescribing.


Drug-related problems are a significant cause of emergency department visits and subsequent resource use. Primary caregivers, such as family physicians and pharmacists, should collaborate more closely to provide and reinforce care plans and monitor patients to prevent drug-related visits to the emergency department and subsequent morbidity and mortality.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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