Parents with math skills at the third-grade level or below were five times more likely to measure the wrong dose of medication for their child than those at the sixth grade level or higher, according to a study.
“Parents face many challenges as they seek to administer medications to their children in a safe and effective manner,” study co-author H. Shonna Yin, MD, MS, FAAP, assistant professor of pediatrics at the New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center, said in a 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.”
The researchers looked at the relationship between both reading and math skills and medication dosing errors. Participants included 289 parents of children younger than 8 who were prescribed a short course of liquid medication after being seen in a pediatric ED. Caregivers spoke either English or Spanish and were the primary person responsible for administering the medication.
Caregivers were given three tests to assess their reading and math skills. Researchers also watched parents as they measured a dose of the medication that had been prescribed for their child. Study results revealed that nearly one in three parents had low reading skills, while 83% of parents had poor numeric skills (27% had skills at the third grade level or below).
Observations showed that 41% of parents made a dosing error. Parents math scores, in particular, were associated with measuring mistakes, with parents who scored below the third-grade level on the math test having almost five times higher odds of making a dosing error.
Providers can help
“Our study found that many parents have poor numeracy skills, placing them at risk for making dosing errors,” Yin said. “These findings point to a need to examine whether strategies that specifically address parent math skills can help reduce medication errors in children.
“In addition, recognition of the importance of addressing numeracy skills may be helpful for healthcare providers as they seek to improve their communication of medication instructions. For example, having providers review and give parents pictures of dosing instruments filled to the correct amount for that prescription may be beneficial.”
The study was scheduled for presentation April 28 in Boston at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.