New research suggests that hospital medication errors occur more often than once believed, and patients and their families are often not told when one occurs.
In a study published last month in the medical journal Critical Care Medicine, researchers found that when an error occurred, patients and caregivers were rarely informed of the mistake. Additionally, the study revealed that more than half the time no corrective action was taken after the mistake was discovered.
The research team, led by Asad Latif of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, reviewed nearly 840,000 medication errors that occurred in 537 hospitals across the country. The study involved both intensive care units (ICU) and non-intensive care wards. More than three quarters of a million errors were reported and 93 percent occurred in non-ICU wards.
The most harmful medication mistakes, those that caused severe harm to the patients or resulted in death, took place in the ICU, at a rate of approximately double that of non-ICU wards.
“Consideration should be given to developing additional safeguards against ICU errors, particularly during drug administration, and eliminating barriers to error disclosures,” wrote Latif.
The study was a cross-sectional analysis of hospital medication errors, as reported to the MEDMARX system between 1999 and 2005. The MEDMARX system is an anonymous, confidential medication error reporting program. It is a self-reported system which allows hospitals to track medication error data.
According to the findings, most of the errors occurred in the administration phase. The most common type of error was that of omission, or failing to give a patient their medication. The errors which led to patient harm typically consisted of dispensing device problems, such as those related to IV lines. Calculation mistakes involving incorrect dosages were also a significant contributing factor.
While patients and their caregivers were often not told of the error, only one-third of hospital staff who made the error were immediately told about making the mistake.
The results of this study came only days after an Alabama jury awarded $140 million in a wrongful death lawsuit last month that centered around a prescription error, which was allegedly caused by a medical transcription service.