Drug errors causing millions in injuries, costing billions of dollars

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Medical errors each year harm as many as 1.5 million patients in the U.S., and the resulting additional costs of treating drug-related injuries within hospitals is estimated to cost $3.5 billion annually, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
           
"The frequency of medication errors and preventable adverse drug events is cause for serious concern," said Linda R. Cronenwett, co-chair of the committee that authored the report, and dean and professor, School of Nursing, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "We need a comprehensive approach to reducing these errors that involves not just healthcare organizations and federal agencies, but the industry and consumers as well," she said. 

The committee that wrote the report includes recommendations for patients, healthcare organizations, government agencies, and pharmaceutical companies to help solve the problem.

Errors are common at every stage, from prescription and administration of a drug to monitoring of the patient's response, the committee found.  The committee estimated that on average, there is at least one medication error per hospital patient per day.
Studies have broken down the number of preventable drug-related injuries, indicating that 400,000 occur each year in hospitals, 800,000 occur in long-term care settings, and roughly 530,000 occur among Medicare recipients in outpatient clinics.
           
A large degree of responsibility lies in the hands of consumers to empower themselves as active partners in their medication care, the report states, but also calls on healthcare professionals to know and act on patients' medical care rights and to make it standard procedure to inform them about their drug regimes and to notify them of any drug errors that have occurred during their care. 
           
The committee also calls on the FDA to work towards the standardization of text and design of medication leaflets to ensure that they are comprehensible and useful to patients. A call is also made to the National Library of Medicine (NLM) to act as the primary agency responsible for online health resources for consumers. The report requests that the NLM create a web site to serve as a centralized source of drug-related information for consumers.

Studies indicate that paper-based prescribing is associated with high error rates, the report states. Therefore the authors recommend that by 2008 all healthcare providers should have plans in place to write prescriptions electronically. By 2010 all providers should be using e-prescribing systems and all pharmacies should be able to receive prescriptions electronically. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) should take the lead in fostering improvements in IT systems.

Additionally, drug terminology should be standardized industry-wide, the report urges. The authors request that the FDA, AHRQ, and the pharmaceutical industry should collaborate with USP, ISMP, and other organizations to develop a plan to address the problem by the end of 2007.

More information: www.nap.edu