Medication alerts: Collaborative efforts to disseminate the information

December 9, 2008

As the FDA issues more medication safety alerts, hospitals are stepping up the ways they quickly get that information out to pharmacists, doctors, and patients.

As the FDA issues more medication safety alerts, hospitals are stepping up the ways they quickly get that information out to pharmacists, doctors, and patients.

Kaiser Permanente, which has millions of members spread out across the country, has found effective ways to communicate drug recalls and other alerts, according to Mirta Millares, PharmD, FCSHP, FASHP, manager of Kaiser Permanente's Drug Information Services and Pharmacy Outcomes Research. “The lesson we have learned is that it is important to provide timely and informed responses to clinicians and patients, and that it is a collaborative process across disciplines,” Dr. Millares said. Pharmacists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals in the organization collaborate on the best ways to communicate about recalls and medical alerts, both internally and externally.

When Merck/Schering Plough released its study on ezetimibe/simvastatin (Vytorin) in January 2008, which found that this combination agent was no more effective in reducing artery plaque build-up than simvastatin alone, Kaiser pharmacists were immediately concerned about what they should tell their patients and whether there had been an FDA alert issued.

“We mobilized our experts and came up with the clinical information. We wanted to let doctors and patients know that a small population was tested, so they should not base their treatment on that [one study],” Millares said.

Kaiser sent a letter about the study to all members taking this drug, explaining the study and providing answers for a list of frequently asked questions. In addition, the letter urged patients to continue taking the drug as prescribed.

In another case, the FDA recall of digoxin (Digitek) for toxicity in April caused a nationwide shortage of the product. As a result, Kaiser's pharmacy leadership developed talking points about the recall and Digitek availability for physicians and others to share with patients and posted that information on its intranet site for physicians and pharmacists. Instead of mailing letters about the recall to all 20,000 patients affected, Kaiser used an automated phone call that provided the information and an 800 number. The phone system tracked which patients did not receive the phone message, and those patients were mailed letters.