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!