11/21/2012 01:11 am ET

Pharmacists May Be Unaware Of Discontinued Drugs, Study Finds

While your doctors may be aware of drugs that have been discontinued -- and may take care to let you, the patient, know about them -- a new study suggests this information isn't always being passed along to the people dispensing the medicine: the pharmacists.

Specifically, researchers found in their study that pharmacies refilled 1.5 percent of medications that had been discontinued. And in 12 percent of these cases, potential harm -- in the form of risk of low blood pressure, allergic reactions, nausea and lightheadedness -- was at stake for the patient. The findings are published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

"This is a novel patient safety issue that has not been measured previously," study researcher Dr. Thomas Sequist, M.D., M.P.H., a doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Vanguard Medical Associations, said in a statement.

The study included analysis of 1,218 medications discontinued during 2009, as well as 400 patient charts that may have included a negative health effect of a patient taking a discontinued medication.

Researchers noted that electronic medical records make it easy for doctors to send prescription information to pharmacists, as well as information about discontinued medications. But just because a doctor sends information out in an electronic medical record saying the drug has been discontinued, doesn't mean that the pharmacist will automatically see this notification.