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New study calls into question the timing of when hospital patients receive drugs

Researchers suggest hospitals prioritize workers’ schedules over times that are better suited to patients

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A new study conducted by researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital explored how hospitals determine the schedules for administering drugs to patients. Researchers found that the driving force behind such timing is not patient need. 

Instead, the researchers learned that many hospitals tend to give patients drugs on a schedule that best matches up with their employees’ schedules, though this is oftentimes to the detriment of patients.. 

“For every drug, order times were time-of-day dependent, with morning-time surges and overnight lulls,” the researchers wrote. “These rhythms correspond to shift changes and rounding times.” 

Prioritizing patient care

To get a better idea of how hospitals are creating schedules for doling out medications, the researchers analyzed drug orders and administration for over 1,500 patients in a children’s hospital in 24-hour intervals between 2010 and 2017. The study included data on nearly half a million doses of 12 different drugs. 

Overall, the researchers learned that there was no universal solution here; each patient is unique and responds more positively to different drugs at different times. The finding emphasizes the importance of healthcare professionals checking in with patients to determine what time best suits their needs. 

The study revealed that the hospital tended to wait until morning to dole out most drugs to patients -- once staffing changes had been made -- and this isn’t always the most effective strategy. 

While some drugs are better administered during the patient’s waking hours versus right before bed, other patients need quick pain relief in the middle of the night. The researchers say it’s important for hospitals to take these factors into consideration. 

Listening to what patients need, ensuring that they can avoid painful side effects, and that they are able to rest comfortably throughout the night are essential, and it can be done rather easily in hospitals. 

“There is great potential here to align what we know about drug timing from the last 60 years of research and implement this knowledge in hospitals,” said researcher Dr. David Smith. “There are immediately actionable steps.” 

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