As a follow-up to its landmark report, To Err Is Human, the Institute of Medicine (of the National Academies) has determined that medication errors are a serious public health risk and that the risk remains a widespread and growing threat.
Medication errors result in at least 1.5 million preventable injuries per year, four hundred thousand of which occur in this country’s hospitals. It’s estimated that medication errors add at least $3.5 billion in extra yearly medical costs.
The errors are spread across all age groups, but older adults are the most likely to be hospitalized for medication-related injuries, according to the Food and Drug Administration. It’s been estimated that almost half of these errors occur in those over the age of 60.
That’s not a surprising statistic, considering that older people take more medications on average than other age groups. And, with more medication use, there are more opportunities for mishaps.
Barcoding, not shelving similarly named medications close together, and other mistake-prevention measures go a long way toward eliminating errors. But, although prescriptions are double-checked (and often triple checked), errors still occur.
The most common error resulting in injury is substituting the wrong drug by mistake. Other types of errors include incorrectly interpreting the doctor’s instructions when generating the prescription labels, and dispensing wrong dosages of correct medications.
A recent study of prescription errors found that almost ninety percent of reported mistakes were discovered during medication counseling offered at the prescription counter and were then corrected before a patient left the store. It appears that this one simple action can prevent a large majority of errors from happening.
I think back at how often I’ve been at a prescription counter when a pharmacy clerk asks a customer if he or she would like to talk to a pharmacist about a new medication being picked up. More often than not, the customer refuses the service, presumably because of time constraints.
If pharmacy customers would take a moment to review a new medication with the pharmacist, many errors would be discovered and corrected before a customer leaves the pharmacy. During such a consult, the pharmacist looks at the medication and dosage, and confirms that it’s intended for whatever condition you’ve discussed with your doctor.Another potential lifesaver is that, when refilling a prescription, take a few moments at the drug counter to open the container to make sure that it’s the same medication you usually take. If the medication looks different, don’t assume that it’s merely a different generic brand. Question the difference to confirm that it is the same medication by a different manufacturer.
The most important thing to remember is that all health professionals are human and they can make mistakes when distracted or rushed. We, as patients and customers, must realize that it’s our responsibility to question anything that doesn’t seem or look right to protect our own health and to keep preventable errors to a minimum.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!
Spot on, but everyone of us will need to be extra vigilant over the next few years for ourselves and those dear to us. The transition to electronic medical records has been rough. Doctors unfamiliar with the system make coding errors when prescribing drugs or procedures, as happened with a close friend of ours this month. The transition from paper records to electronic records is fraught with human and computer-generated errors. The Affordable Care Act is disrupting the health care of millions of us just in the first year; wait until the employer mandate kicks in and 80% of Americans are subject to disruption. Changing doctors and other caregivers will increase the chances of human error.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Hey James. This is information everyone should know about. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and expertise.
Thanks, Walt and James, for your comments. Unfortunately, healthcare has always been fraught with real and potential errors. The goal is vigilance by both the professional and the caregiver as healthcare continues to evolve to minimize any negative impact.
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Mistakes only occur because the pharmacist is sometimes rushed to the point of insanity. I have seen it many times. On a busy Monday, you can see the look on the Pharmacists face…. It often it appears that another pharmacist should be on duty. Corporate greed is the cause of these mistakes and they should have to answer for them. I don’t mean answering for them with money. If someone dies as a result of a prescription error, the director of pharmacy should most definitely appear in court with the pharmacist. The truth will easily be seen. The pharmacist did not have enough help or did not have the required expert help that is required to do his job with little or no error. This problem is getting worse now that your pharmacist has to play “nurse” in giving flu shots, and the rest.
I could not have said it better. Thanks for your comments and readership. All the best!