Improving Patient Safety by Reducing Drug Name Confusion
Director, Center for Communication and Health
“All of our AHRQ-funded work aims to make care safer and more effective for patients by redesigning systems to improve communication and coordination.”
Bruce Lambert, Ph.D., director of the Center for Communication and Health at Northwestern University in Chicago and a professor in the university’s Department of Communication Studies, uses his health communications expertise to examine ways to improve medication safety with the help of AHRQ funding.
Early in his career, Dr. Lambert used his communications training to teach pharmacists how to counsel patients about their medicines. Realizing that many drug names are too closely related, causing potential confusion and medication errors, Dr. Lambert created an algorithm to predict the probability of confusion between look-alike and sound-alike drug names.
This early research bolstered Dr. Lambert’s commitment to use his expertise to solve medication safety problems. His first AHRQ-funded grant in 2003 allowed him to study how pharmacists, prescribers, and patients hear and then perceive drug names. He also developed software to screen proposed drug names against databases of existing similar-sounding drug names.
In 2007, Dr. Lambert received additional AHRQ funding for the Tools for Optimizing Medication Safety (TOP-MED) project as part of the AHRQ-supported Center for Education and Research on Therapeutics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As part of the project, Dr. Lambert and his colleagues developed 24 principles of conservative prescribing that encourage physicians to think beyond drugs, practice more strategic prescribing, maintain vigilance regarding adverse effects, exercise caution with new drugs, and consider long-term, broader impacts of prescribing. The “Principles for Conservative Prescribing” were published in JAMA in 2011 and are featured in an online course that is part of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Open School.
Since 2011, Dr. Lambert has continued AHRQ-supported research to address a wide array of medication safety topics, including wrong-drug and wrong-patient errors, diagnosis error, health literacy, safe use of opioids in the hospital, and monitoring potential adverse effects of approved drugs, a field of study known as pharmacovigilance.
Currently, Dr. Lambert is the principal investigator on a 5-year AHRQ-funded grant to prevent prescribing errors related to computerized physician order entry. When his team reviewed changed or canceled medication orders, they discovered that embedded alerts successfully prevented wrong-drug and wrong-patient errors by warning prescribers that a drug was not indicated for a specific medical condition. As part of this ongoing project, Dr. Lambert’s team created an algorithm to detect changes in medication orders and alert the prescriber to take a closer look. The team is now studying the effectiveness of these alerts in the electronic medical records systems of a large health system in Chicago and one in New York.
Principal Investigator: Bruce Lambert
Institution: Northwestern University
Grantee Since: 2003
Type of Grant: Various
Consistent with its mission, AHRQ provides a broad range of extramural research grants and contracts, research training, conference grants, and intramural research activities. AHRQ is committed to fostering the next generation of health services researchers who can focus on some of the most important challenges facing our Nation's health care system.
To learn more about AHRQ's Research Education and Training Programs, please visit https://www.ahrq.gov/training.