Meds and you

30 April 2012

Parents' maths skills may equal medication errors

Parents with poor maths skills are more likely than others to give incorrect doses of medicine to their children, a new study finds.


Parents with poor math skills are more likely than others to give incorrect doses of medicine to their children, a new study finds.

The study included 289 parents of children younger than 8 years who were prescribed a short course of liquid medication after being seen in a paediatric emergency department. The parents were given three tests to assess their maths and reading skills, and researchers also watched the parents as they measured out a dose of the medication prescribed for their child.

Nearly one-third of the parents had low reading skills and 83% had poor maths skills. Twenty-seven percent had maths skills at the third-grade level or below.

Liquid medication can be confusing

Overall, 41% of the parents made a medication dosing error. Parents with maths skills at or below the third-grade level were nearly five times more likely to make a medication-dosing error than those with maths skills at the sixth-grade level or higher.

The study was scheduled for presentation Saturday at the Paediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Boston.

"Parents face many challenges as they seek to administer medications to their children in a safe and effective manner," study co-author Dr H. Shonna Yin, an assistant professor of paediatrics at New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Centre, said in an American Academy of Paediatrics news release.

"Dosing liquid medications correctly can be especially confusing, as parents may need to understand numerical concepts such as how to convert between different units of measurement, such as millilitres, teaspoons and tablespoons. Parents also must accurately use dosing cups, droppers and syringes, many of which vary in their measurement markings and the volume they hold," Yin noted.

Addressing numeracy skills helpful

These study findings "point to a need to examine whether strategies that specifically address parent maths skills can help reduce medication errors in children," Yin added. "In addition, recognition of the importance of addressing numeracy skills may be helpful for health care providers as they seek to improve their communication of medication instructions."

The authors said having health care providers review and give parents pictures of dosing instruments filled to the correct amount for that prescription may be beneficial.

Data and conclusions presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

(HealthDay News, April 2012) 

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