Medication Errors Injure More than 1 Million People per Year
By Christina Orlovsky, senior staff writer
When the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its landmark
patient safety report To Err is Human in 1999, the health care community
was awakened to the sobering statistics that as many as 98,000 people die each
year in hospitals due to preventable medical errors. Since then, many health
care and patient safety organizations have implemented numerous practices to
improve safety and reduce mortality from errors in health care facilities.
However, a new IOM report released this week shows that not enough has been
done, particularly when it comes to medication errors and adverse drug events.
The report, Preventing Medication Errors, points out
the staggering numbers associated with preventable drug-related injuries per
year: 400,000 in hospitals—averaging more than one per day—800,000 in long-term
care facilities and another 530,000 among Medicare patients in outpatient
clinics. In all, the report’s authors estimate that at least 1.5 million people
are harmed by errors involving prescription medications each year, adding that
this is likely an underestimate.
In the hospital setting alone, these adverse drug events
account for at least $3.5 billion in extra medical costs, the IOM committee
“The frequency of medication errors and preventable adverse
drug events is cause for serious concern,” said committee co-chair Linda R.
Cronenwett, Ph.D., RN, dean at professor in the school of nursing at the
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “We need a comprehensive approach to
reducing these errors that involves not just health care organizations and
federal agencies, but the industry and consumers as well.”
According to the IOM, medication errors include all mistakes
involving prescription drugs, over-the-counter products, vitamins and dietary
supplements. Errors run the gamut from prescription and administration mistakes
to monitoring patient response.
Specific concerns raised by the IOM committee included
problems with patient-provider communication, leading to a patient’s
misunderstanding of a drug’s dosage and side effects, as well as a patient’s
lack of awareness of what medications he or she is taking and what it is
prescribed to treat.
Additionally, the committee spoke out advocating for the use
of computerized prescribing systems to reduce the risk of error related to
physician handwriting or misinterpretation of a dosage or drug name. The IOM
recommended that all health care providers have plans in place to write
prescriptions electronically and implement these plans by 2010.
Further recommendations made by the IOM include: encouraging
patients to advocate for their own safety by asking questions of their providers
about medications; improving patients’ capabilities for medication
self-management; making patient information and decision-support tools available
for consumers; improving methods for drug labeling and communicating drug
information to consumers; establishing standards for drug-related health
information technologies and allocating government funds for research on
In a statement about the report, committee co-chair J. Lyle
Bootman, Ph.D., Sc.D., dean and professor of the University of Arizona College
of Pharmacy, called attention to the country’s dire need for protection against
preventable medication errors.
“The American people expect and deserve safe and effective
care,” he said.
“Our committee has developed an ambitious agenda for making
the use of medications safer and ensuring that patients experience the desired
clinical results,” he added. “This agenda requires that all
stakeholders—patients, health care providers, payers, industry and
government—commit to working together to prevent medication errors. Given that a
large proportion of injurious drug events are preventable, this proposed agenda
should deliver early and measurable benefits.”
For more information, visit the Institute of Medicine Web
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