Medication Errors Harm Millions Every Year

A 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies finds that medication errors are among the most common medical errors, harming at least 1.5 million people every year.  The extra medical costs of treating drug-related injuries occurring in hospitals alone conservatively amount to $3.5 billion a year, and this estimate does not take into account lost wages and  productivity or additional health care costs, the report says.

The committee that wrote the report recommended a series of actions for patients, health care organizations, government agencies, and pharmaceutical companies.  The recommendations include steps to increase communication and improve interactions between health care professionals and patients, as well as steps patients should take to protect themselves.  The report also recommends the creation of new, consumer-friendly information resources through which patients can obtain objective, easy-to-understand drug information.  In addition, it calls for all prescriptions to be written electronically by 2010 and suggests ways to improve the naming, labeling, and packaging of drugs to reduce confusion and prevent errors.

"The frequency of medication errors and preventable adverse drug events is cause for serious concern," said committee co-chair Linda R. Cronenwett, dean and professor, School of Nursing, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  "We need a comprehensive approach to reducing these errors that involves not just health care organizations and federal agencies, but the industry and consumers as well," she said.  Co-chair J. Lyle Bootman, dean and professor, College of Pharmacy, University of Arizona, Tucson, added, "Our recommendations boil down to ensuring that consumers are fully informed about how to take medications safely and achieve the desired results, and that health care providers have the tools and data necessary to prescribe, dispense, and administer drugs as safely as possible and to monitor for problems.  The ultimate goal is to achieve the best care and outcomes for patients each time they take a medication."

Medication errors involve all mistakes involving prescription drugs, over-the-counter products, vitamins, minerals, or herbal supplements.  Errors are common at every stage, from prescription and administration of a drug to monitoring of the patient's response, the committee found.  It estimated that on average, there is at least one medication error per hospital patient per day, although error rates vary widely across facilities.  Not all errors lead to injury or death, but the number of preventable injuries that do occur -- the committee estimated at least 1.5 million each year -- is sobering, the report says.

Studies indicate that 400,000 preventable drug-related injuries occur each year in hospitals.  Another 800,000 occur in long-term care settings, and roughly 530,000 occur just among Medicare recipients in outpatient clinics.  The committee noted that these are likely underestimates.

For more information about this study, read the article.

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Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.

 

 


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