Physician patient communication failure facilitates medication errors in older polymedicated patients with multiple comorbidities

Fam Pract. 2013 Feb;30(1):56-63. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cms046. Epub 2012 Aug 17.


Objective: To analyse the frequency of mistakes in communication between the physician and the patient and their incidence in errors in self-administered drugs.

Methods: We undertook a descriptive, cross-sectional study based on interviews with a random sample of patients older than 65 years who were polymedicated (five or more drugs) and had multiple comorbidities. Data were analysed about the patients' reports of what the physician said, medication mistakes by the patients and their consequences.

Results: Responses were provided by 382 patients. A medication error in the last year was reported by 287 patients (75%), and 16 patients (4%) reported four or more errors. Most cases concerned the dosage, a similar appearance of the medication or a lack of understanding of the physician's instructions. Very severe consequences occurred in 19 cases (5%). Multiple comorbidities (P = 0.006) and a greater number of treatments (P = 0.002) were associated with making mistakes. Frequent changes in prescription (P = 0.02), not considering the prescriptions of other physicians (P = 0.01), inconsistency in the messages (P = 0.01), being treated by various different physicians at the same time (P = 0.03), a feeling of not being listened to (P < 0.001) or loss of trust in the physician (P < 0.001) were associated with making medication mistakes.

Conclusions: Mistakes by polymedicated patients with multiple comorbidities represent a real risk that should be addressed by the professionals. A review should be made of the routine control questions that the physician asks the patient to identify what other drugs the patient may be taking that have been indicated by another physician.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Communication*
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Medication Errors / adverse effects
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Polypharmacy
  • Self Administration / statistics & numerical data