Identification of medication-related attendances at an A & E department

J Clin Pharm Ther. 2003 Feb;28(1):41-5. doi: 10.1046/j.0269-4727.2003.00461.x.


Background: The use of medication is the most common medical intervention, but it has associated risks. These have been described as drug-related problems (DRPs). Other non-UK studies have reported DRPs to be the cause of 3-16% of hospital admissions and around 4% of attendances at emergency departments. The size of the problem in the UK has not been quantified.

Aim: The aim of this study was to identify the number of patients attending a central London accident and emergency (A & E) department with symptoms or conditions caused by DRPs.

Method: A 2-week retrospective, case-review study was conducted in the A & E department of St Thomas' Hospital, London, during March 1999. DRPs were identified using recognized criteria. Statistical analysis identified patient characteristics which could be associated with the incidence of DRPs. The types of DRP and the drugs involved were identified.

Results: During the study period, 106 patients attended the A & E department with a DRP. This equates to 4% of the A & E population. During this period the demographics of the A & E attenders were no different to the annual A & E cohort. The most common DRPs were adverse drug reactions and overdose. The most frequently involved drugs included analgesics, antibiotics, those with narrow therapeutic indices and illegal drugs. The mean age of this patient group was 38 years (non-significant). They attended significantly more frequently during the early hours of the morning and on Saturdays than the A & E general population (chi-squared P = 0.004 and P = 0.003, respectively).

Discussion: The incidence of DRP as a cause of attendance at A & E reflects that in the literature. No statistical association with a specific age group of patients could be made, but the mean age of 38 years is younger than previously reported. The demographic differences which were statistically significant can be explained by the increased incidence of DRP associated with the use of illegal drugs than reported in other studies. Other drug groups identified by this study are representative of other reports.

Conclusion: DRPs account for 4% of attendances at a central London A & E Department.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics / adverse effects
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Antihypertensive Agents / adverse effects
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects
  • Databases, Factual
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / adverse effects
  • London / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Analgesics
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Illicit Drugs