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CJEM. 2009 Mar;11(2):131-8.

Adherence to emergency department discharge prescriptions.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Vancouver General Hospital, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.



Nonadherence to prescribed medication is associated with increased morbidity and mortality as well as the increased use of health services. The main objective of our study was to assess the incidence of prescription-filling and medication adherence in patients discharged from the emergency department (ED).


This was a prospective, observational study carried out at a Canadian tertiary care ED with an annual census of 69 000. We enrolled a convenience sample of patients being discharged with a prescription. We queried a provincial prescription-dispensing database 2 weeks later to determine whether prescriptions had been filled. We used a standardized follow-up interview to assess adherence and whether or not the patient experienced an adverse drug-related event (ADRE) or an unplanned revisit to an ED or clinic.


Of the 301 patients who agreed to participate, follow-up was successful for 258 (85.7%). Fifty-one patients (19.8%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 15.4%-25.1%) failed to fill their discharge prescriptions and 104 (40.3%, 95% CI 34.5%-46.4%) did not adhere to 1 or more medications. Antibiotics were associated with a lower odds ratio (OR) of nonadherence (OR 0.21, 95% CI 0.08-0.52). There was a trend toward increasing nonadherence in patients who reported an ADRE (OR 1.84, 95% CI 0.98-3.48) or had 2 or more medications coprescribed (OR 1.71, 95% CI 0.95-3.09). There was also a trend toward a higher risk of a revisit to an ED or clinic in nonadherent patients (OR 1.75, 95% CI 0.94-3.25).


Approximately 4 in 10 patients discharged from the ED did not adhere to his or her prescribed medication. Our results suggest that patients who are prescribed antibiotics are more likely to be adherent, and that further evaluation of the associations between nonadherence, ADREs, the coprescription of 2 or more medications and the use of health services is warranted.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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