Medication mistakes

Drug-related errors are among the most common medical mistakes, a report says.

At least 1.5 million people are harmed each year from medication errors, according to a report from the U.S. based Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

This amounts to extra medical costs of about U.S. $3.5 billion a year in hospitals alone, the report says. And this doesn’t include lost wages and productivity as well as additional health care costs.

“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.

And just how frequent are these kinds of errors? The report estimated at least one drug-related mistake per hospital patient per day in the United States, although error rates vary widely across hospital facilities. And while not all errors lead to injury or death, the number that do occur – about 1.5 million each year – is indeed a sobering wake-up call.

In Canada, a report by the Canadian Coalition on Medication Incident Reporting and Prevention (CCMIRP) identified an urgent need for prevention of drug-related errors, saying that medication mistakes are the most common single preventable cause of patient injury.

Medication mishaps are said to include all mistakes involving prescription drugs, over-the-counter products, vitamins, minerals, or herbal supplements.

Older people at risk
Almost half of the fatal medication errors occurred in people over 60, according to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). Unsurprisingly, older people are especially at risk for drug-related errors because they often take multiple medications.

Children are also vulnerable because drug doses are based on their weight, and accurate calculations are vital.

What you can do
The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) recommends taking these steps to protect yourself and your family.

• Be informed. According to the FDA, the most common causes of medication errors are performance and knowledge deficits (44 per cent) and miscommunication (16 per cent). Be sure you know the name of the drug – brand and generic – and what it’s for.

• Make sure you understand (and have in written form) all instructions, including: the exact dosage, whether to take with food, how to store (at room temperature or in the refrigerator), foods or beverages to avoid, what to do if you miss a dose, potential drug interactions and any possible side-effects. To avoid mistakes, read the bottle’s label each time you take a medication.

• Ask your pharmacy about compliance aids, such as containers with sections for daily dosages or written daily reminders that can be checked off after taking each dose. Also keep an up to date list of all medications you’re taking including over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, medicinal herbs and other substances you take for health reasons. (Note: be sure to include often forgotten items such as vitamins, laxatives, sleeping aids and birth control pills.)

• Be sure your doctor and pharmacy know about any allergies or adverse drug reactions you may have experienced.