If 5 + 3 = 9, Check Your Kid's Meds Again

Medication dosage errors may result from poor math skills of mom and dad

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) If you remember asking your math teacher, "When are we ever going to need this stuff," the answer might be more important than you think: when you're measuring medication for your kid.

A recent unpublished study has shown that poor math skills among parents are strongly linked to errors in measuring out the correct dosage of a medication for their children.

"Have a nurse, doctor or pharmacist show you how to measure your child's medication."

Lead author Christine Marrese, MD, of the New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital, and colleagues wanted to find out what affect it might have on making errors about medication dosage if a parent had weak reading or math skills.

They recruited 289 parents with children under 8 years old, all of whom had received a prescription for a short-term liquid medication after an emergency room visit.

The parents took three tests to provide data about their math and reading skills, and then the researchers observed the parents measuring out a dose of medication that had been prescribed for their child.

Approximately a third of the parents had poor reading skills, but 83 percent had weak math skills, including 27 percent of the total group whose math skills fell below third grade math. During the observed dosing, 41 percent of the parents made an error.

Parents who had math skills at the third grade level or lower were much more likely - about five times as much - to measure out an incorrect medication dosage for their child compared to parents whose math skills were at sixth grade or greater.

Among the math skills parents might encounter when trying to measure out medications is the ability to convert drug amount from one unit of measurement to another.

Medications are often given in milliliters, teaspoons and tablespoons, and then they might be administered with syringes, dosing cups or droppers, all labeled with different units and capacities.

"Parents face many challenges as they seek to administer medications to their children in a safe and effective manner," said co-author H. Shonna Yin, MD, an assistant pediatrics professor at NYT's School of Medicine.

"These findings point to a need to examine whether strategies that specifically address parent math skills can help reduce medication errors in children," Dr. Yin said. "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 study was presented April 28 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Boston. No information was available regarding the study's funding and possible conflicts of interest.

The study was presented at a conference, and no publication date or journal was noted. Therefore, it is possible the study has not yet been peer-reviewed and had its quality evaluated by others in the field.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 28, 2012
Last Updated:
May 10, 2012