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Standardized drug-administration instructions could improve adherence, group says

NCPDP releases white paper on universal medication schedule

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — With some studies showing that patients' failure to take their medications as directed costs the economy nearly $300 billion per year, one group is looking to tackle what it sees as part of the problem: doctors' and pharmacists' instructions to patients on how much medicine to take and when.

The National Council for Prescription Drug Programs is pushing what it calls universal medication schedule, or UMS, which would standardize those instructions, and it announced Tuesday the release of a white paper that describes what it calls the need for such a schedule and how it could be implemented using its Script Standard for electronic prescribing.

"Inconsistencies in current prescription administration instructions between prescribers, pharmacists and patients pose quality of care and patient safety risks," NCPDP president Lee Ann Stember said. "Compounding the problem is the state of health literacy in the United States, which several studies have found contributes to greater use of emergency departments, increased hospitalizations and more complications and deaths from chronic conditions."

Currently, instructions for administering drugs may appear in an inconsistent manner on drug labels. For example, when a prescriber uses the medical jargon "1 qd," a pharmacist may transcribe it as anything from "take one tablet once daily" to "take one tablet every 24 hours." Under UMS, the instructions would simply read "take one pill in the morning."

"Given that the percentage of Americans taking five or more prescriptions has almost doubled over the past decade and that about 40% of older adults use at least five medications, it is imperative that the industry act quickly to implement the UMS into their operations and practices to make it easier for patients to take medications appropriately, safely and as directed," Stember said.

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