It’s been said many times that one of the main reasons why people sue for medical malpractice is lack of communication, but not too much has been said about medication errors.
According to an article in The New York Times, in 2008 medication errors had increased more than 50 percent with 1.9 million people becoming sick or injured from medication side effects, or they took or were given the wrong type or dose of medication.
So what is being done or what can be done to reduce these medication errors?
In 2004, the FDA implemented a new rule requiring bar codes on certain drug and biological product labels. Each patient is given a bar-coded identification wristband that transmits information to the hospital’s computer. Before dispensing medications, nurses scan the wristband to pull up a patient’s full name, social security number, and the exact medications the patient has been prescribed.
Another idea is to eliminate abbreviations and dosage expressions that can be misinterpreted. A study conducted by Bates DW, Cullen DJ, Laird N, et al. that was published in JAMA about medication prescribing discovered that more than 30% of all handwritten prescriptions had a mistake of some type that required deciphering and correcting by a pharmacist. For example, the number 1 error-prone medication is insulin in which the abbreviation “u” for units is often confused with the number 0. ISMP reports that these errors have been occurring for over 30 years.
Patients are often given the incorrect medication. There are thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of medications on the market nowadays. It would be good to limit the look-alike and sound-alike drug names, and confusing packaging. The pharmacy manager should develop a sound policy and procedure for the safe distribution medication and supplies to patients.
Reducing medication errors will take a major revamping of the system. Development of new policies and procedures does involve many departments from pharmacy to risk management, legal counsel, and upper level executives. Included in these new policies and procedures is taking a great deal of care and consideration in hiring personnel, evaluating their competency, and ensuring proper training so that tasks are performed adequately.
A review of medication programs and quality improvement should be ongoing, and all personnel should be committed to the safe use and distribution of medications.
These are just a few of the major issues and solutions when it comes to medication errors. What other things can you think of to help reduce mistakes?
Maria Palma is a patient safety advocate and writer for Nexus Insurance Services, a medical malpractice insurance broker helping professionals find quality and affordable professional liability insurance.