WHO: Healthcare errors impact one in 10

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Errors in healthcare impact 10 percent of patients worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The agency has issued nine guidelines to aid healthcare providers in avoiding common errors.

WHO’s Collaborating Centre for Patient Safety Solutions is making the guidelines available
for use by WHO Member States. WHO’s basic aim is to spur a re-design of care processes to prevent seemingly inevitable human errors from actually reaching patients.

"Patient safety is now recognized as a priority by health systems around the world," says Sir Liam Donaldson, chair of the alliance, chief medical officer for England, and chief medical adviser for the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. "The Patient Safety Solutions program of work is addressing several vital areas of risk to patients. Clear and succinct actions contained in the nine solutions have proved to be useful in reducing the unacceptably high numbers of medical injuries around the world."

WHO identified the following trouble areas that need addressing to avoiding common errors:

  • Confusing drug names is one of the most common causes of medication errors and is a worldwide concern. With tens of thousands of drugs currently on the market, the potential for error created by confusing brand or generic drug names and packaging is significant;
  • The widespread and continuing failures to correctly identify patients often leads to medication, transfusion and testing errors; wrong person procedures; and the discharge of infants to the wrong families;
  • Gaps in hand-over (or hand-off) communication between patient care units, and between and among care teams, can cause serious breakdowns in the continuity of care, inappropriate treatment, and potential harm for the patient;
  • Considered totally preventable, cases of wrong procedure or wrong site surgery are largely the result of miscommunication and unavailable, or incorrect, information. A major contributing factor to these types of errors is the lack of a standardized pre-operative process;
  • Address standardization of the dosing, units of measure and terminology; and prevention of mix-ups of specific concentrated electrolyte solutions;
  • Medication errors occur most commonly at transitions. Medication reconciliation is a process designed to prevent medication errors at patient transition points;
  • Address the need for meticulous attention to detail when administering medications and feedings, and when connecting devices to patients;
  • WHO recommendations addressing the need for prohibitions on the reuse of needles at health care facilities; and
  • It is estimated that at any point in time more than 1.4 million people worldwide are suffering from infections acquired in hospitals. Effective hand hygiene is the primary preventive measure for avoiding this problem.