Targeting Medication Errors in the Drive for Patient Safety

One of the most under recognized – but deadly – issues for patients could be significantly curtailed if healthcare professionals had current, relevant, and accessible information at their fingertips.

What would providers do if a disease outbreak were killing 2,000 patients a week? They’d undoubtedly mobilize to address the epidemic. But there’s a different kind of epidemic spreading – one that’s rooted in unsafe medication practices and medication errors, which are a leading cause of patient injury and avoidable harm in healthcare systems across the world.

Globally, the annual cost associated with medication errors has been estimated at $42 billion, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States alone, medication errors cause at least one death every day and injure about 1.3 million people annually.

$42 billion
the global cost of medication errors each year

Throughout the treatment process – from prescribing to dispensing, to administration, to counselling or educating patients – lurks the potential for mistakes that can undermine the effectiveness of a therapy and negatively affect patient safety.

With the average patient in a skilled nursing facility over age 65 taking an average of 14 medications per year, according to the American Society of Consulting Pharmacists, the opportunity for adverse drug events and side effects is great.

Despite having the knowledge to prevent adverse events, many health systems do not adequately invest in patient safety to put well-known safety improvement strategies in place.

Kevin T. Kavanagh, MD, Health Watch USA in Journal of Patient Safety, published by Wolters Kluwer.

Medication errors have a devastating impact on patients, but they also affect healthcare professionals, whose focus is on alleviating patient suffering. For healthcare organizations, the financial consequences can be harmful, resulting in additional costs to correct medication problems.

All of these errors could be prevented by providing healthcare professionals – physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and technicians – with continuous and up-to-date drug safety information. The implementation of safety checks through process improvements or the use of automated screening tools could further serve to eliminate mistakes.

With medication-related decision support, clinicians receive automatic alerts from their electronic health records if a problem is suspected. Such early information enables healthcare professionals to quickly evaluate a problem and determine whether alternative treatment should be recommended.

Access to referential medication safety information and drug data at every stage of the process can help to keep patients safe and can be used to educate families and prevent medication errors from occurring.

While the knowledge and expertise of the healthcare provider is paramount, communication and access to current knowledge through electronic medication-decision support tools can augment that expertise and reduce the burden of adverse drug events. 

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