The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has released its report Preventing Medication Errors, stating that drug errors, or “adverse drug events” (ADE), injure 1.5 million Americans every year. Hospitalized patients can expect to experience at least one medication error every day.
Four out of five adults in the U.S. take prescription drugs, over the counter medications, or supplements every day. One-third of Americans take at least five different medications. It is impossible to calculate the total cost of drug errors, but the estimate is about $3.5 billion in drug-related injuries annually. According to the Institute of Medicine, “One study found that each preventable ADE that took place in a hospital added about $8,750 (in 2006 dollars) to the cost of the hospital stay.”
Preventing Medication Errors is a follow up to a 1999 report which revealed that 98,000 people are killed each year by medical errors, 7,000 of these deaths are due to medication errors. Each year at least 400,000 preventable drug-related injuries occur in hospitals, about 800,000 occur in long-term care settings, and 530,000 Medicare recipients are injured by drug errors in outpatient clinics.
Similarity in the names of medications and poor doctor handwriting are blamed for a good portion of drug errors.
The IOM has made several suggestions for preventing drug errors, including improved communication between patients and health care providers, making electronic prescriptions mandatory by 2010, and improved drug labeling.
Patients should take a more active role in their care. Currently, communication between health care providers and patients is very poor. Patients are expected to leave everything up to their doctors in what the IOM calls a “paternalistic and provider-centric” system which must be changed to a partnership. The report says, “Patients should understand more about their medications and take more responsibility for monitoring those medications, while providers should take steps to educate, consult with, and listen to the patients.”
E-prescription or computerized prescriptions could significantly reduce the number of drug errors. Currently, only 10% of U.S. hospitals use computerized prescriptions. One in seven hospitals uses a system that barcodes doses to match a code on patient’s wrist bands, alerting health care providers when they are about to give a patient the wrong medication or the wrong dose.
Michael Cohen, the president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices and a co-author of the new report, visited a hospital which uses the barcode system. “In a one-month period, there were 74 times when a nurse walked into the wrong patient’s room, scanned the patient’s wrist band, and was alerted to the fact that they were not with the right patient,” he said. “That’s an amazing number of people that may have gotten the drug that wasn’t intended for them!”
The Food and Drug Administration is advised to improve and standardize the drug information leaflets given to consumers in order to help prevent confusion. The IOM recommends improving the names, abbreviations and acronyms used for medications, which are currently much too similar between radically different medications.
Some drug errors are harmless, or even beneficial, but they can be deadly and almost all are preventable. The improvements recommended by the IOM could lead to safer and more effective health care.
If you or a loved on has been injured by a drug error, contact an experienced pharmaceutical injury or medical malpractice attorney today.