What’s New in the Patient Safety World

June 2012

Parents’ Math Ability Matters



For years when we have talked about health literacy we have focused on reading levels and reading comprehension. Now a new study (AAP 2012) shows that parents’ mathematics skills, independent of reading skills, may play a big role in some pediatric medication errors. The study was done by Marrese et al. and presented as an abstract at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting April 28, 2012 (Marrese 2012).


The study showed 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 with skills at the sixth grade level or higher.


While about a third of the parents had low reading skills, 83% had poor “numeracy” skills, with 27% having skills at or below the third grade level. Parents with low numeracy may especially prone to make errors in tasks requiring dose measurement or measurement conversions.


The study highlights the need to address numeracy skills of parents when communicating medication instructions (we suspect the same is likely to apply to adult medication errors as well). They provide as an example having providers review and give parents pictures of dosing instruments filled to the correct amount for that prescription.







American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Parents’ Poor Math Skills May Lead to Medication Errors. AAP press release April 28, 2012





Marrese C, Dreyer B, Mendelsohn A, Moreira H, Yin HS. Parent Medication Dosing Errors: Role of Health Literacy and Numeracy (abstract). Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting April 28, 2012
















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