Phone calls to a hospital medicines information helpline: analysis of queries from members of the public and assessment of potential for harm from their medicines

Int J Pharm Pract. 2011 Apr;19(2):115-22. doi: 10.1111/j.2042-7174.2010.00081.x. Epub 2011 Feb 25.


Objective: To find out what questions the public ask of pharmacists on a hospital medicines information helpline, and to assess the potential for improving individuals' management of medicines through telephone helpline support.

Methods: We analysed consecutive phone calls made by members of the public over 6 months to a hospital pharmacy medicines information helpline. Calls were coded for type of medicine, reason for phoning and any error revealed in the call. We also looked at which medicines were associated with harm and/or potential for harm had the caller not enquired about appropriate action to take.

Key findings: Five hundred of the 923 consecutive calls to the helpline were from members of the public (including discharged hospital patients). Antimicrobial agents, analgesics and cardiovascular medicines accounted for approximately half of all calls. The reason for phoning was most often to ask about interactions (22%), directions for use (21%) or advice on adverse effects (15%). In a third of calls it is possible an error had occurred (including patient error and directions missing from a dispensed item). Forty-eight per cent of calls were concerned with harm or judged to have potential for harm had professional information not been available. Four of these cases (0.8%), one of which was patient error and three of which were adverse effects reported by the caller, were categorised as Harm Index category F, defined as requiring intervention and referral.

Conclusions: Our medicines information helpline appears to be a valuable resource for discharged patients and public and the advice given may be expected to improve safety with medicines and reduce harm. Our results reveal gaps in patient education about their medicines, some of which could be addressed by dispensing staff or the pharmacist at discharge. The data provide a baseline for measuring improvements in medicines management and will be useful in identifying patients who may benefit from follow-up call support from pharmacists.

MeSH terms

  • Drug Information Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Hotlines / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Medication Errors / adverse effects
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage
  • Pharmacists / organization & administration*
  • Pharmacy Service, Hospital / organization & administration


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations