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Considerations for using the ‘brown bag’ strategy to reconcile medications during routine outpatient office visits

Background Among medication reconciliation studies, varying methods are used to determine which medications patients are actually taking. One recommended approach is to ask patients to ‘‘brown bag’’ their medications for routine office visits. Aims To determine if ‘brown bag’ practices performed during routine office visits improve the accuracy of provider-documented medication lists. Methods This cross-sectional pilot study was conducted in a university affiliated community geriatric clinic. Forty-six cognitively intact elders who managed their own medications enrolled. Participants self-selected into two groups: ‘brown-baggers’ (BBs) and ‘non-brown-baggers’ (NBBs). Three medication lists were compared for each patient: provider-documented in patient’s chart (chart list); researcher-generated by post-appointment semistructured interview (point-of-care [POC] list); post-appointment semi-structured telephone interview (telephone list, reference standard). Accuracy of chart and POC lists were compared with reference lists among BBs and NBBs. Results Thirty-three (72%) patients brought some of their medications to scheduled appointments (BBs); of these, 39% bagged all of their medications. Excluding route as a variable, 35% of providerdocumented chart lists were complete; only 6.5% were accurate. Some 76% of chart-documented medication lists contained inclusion, omission and/ or dosing instruction discrepancies, with no differences between BBs and NBBs. However, POC lists obtained using a semi-structured interview included fewer inclusion and omission discrepancies among BBs than NBBs (42% v 77%, P = 0.05). In subset analyses by medication type, over-the-counter (OTC) medication documentation was more accurate among BBs than NBBs. Overall, chart lists contained two to three times more discrepancies than lists generated at POC. Conclusion Most BBs do not bag all their medications for office visits. Chart list accuracy is no better among BBs than NBBs, although patients who ‘brown bag’ their medications for office visits may prompt providers to conduct a more thorough medication history. Lists generated by semistructured interviewing, regardless of BB status,are more accurate than chart lists. Findings challenge benefits of the ‘brown bag’ unless coupled with in-depth questioning and processes for transferring information to chart lists.


Erin M. Sarzynski

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