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Looking at what recent studies have to say about medication errors

Medication errors are a common occurrence across the United States, and among the most commonly cited bases for medical malpractice litigation. Two recent studies highlight the issue of medication error and why the health care industry needs to ramp up efforts to address the problem.

One of the studies found that more than one-third of calls to poison control centers are related to medication errors. That figure was arrived at by looking at 10 years of data from the National Poison System. The report found that almost 97 percent of poison exposures were unintentional, with over half having been deemed “unintentional.”

Nearly 37 percent of poison exposures were blamed on therapeutic error. Most of the cases involved infants, with 47 percent of the errors involving mistakes in the quantity of medication given and nearly 43 percent involving errors in the type of medication given or the timing the medication was administered. The medications most often involved in poison control center calls are acetaminophen, GI preparation substances and H2 blockers and most of the calls, it was found, did not have serious consequences. That being said, 73 deaths were reported over the period of the study.

The abstract of the study did not mention whether errors involving prescription medications were tracked. One has to assume, though, that the potential consequences of medication errors involving prescription medications are greater, particularly with respect to certain classes of powerful drugs. There are probably various reasons for the high rate of medication errors among infants. In any case, physicians need to be aware of this fact and take additional care to ensure mistakes are not made when infants are being given prescription medications.

In our next post, we’ll look at another study that looked at the relation between electronic health records and medication errors. 

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