Parents' Poor Math Skills May = Medication Errors

SATURDAY April 28, 2012 -- 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 pediatric emergency department. The parents were given three tests to assess their math 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 percent had poor math skills. Twenty-seven percent had math skills at the third-grade level or below.

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

The study was scheduled for presentation Saturday at the Pediatric 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 pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center, said in an American Academy of Pediatrics 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, like milliliters, 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.

These study findings "point to a need to examine whether strategies that specifically address parent math 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.

More information

The Nemours Foundation offers advice to parents about medication safety.

Posted: April 2012


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