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Alabama Hospital Shows That Medication Errors Can Be Reduced

Pharmaceuticals can do amazing things for patients when administered properly. Yet, there are many moving parts in getting the right medication to the right patient. Preventable mistakes like administering an incorrect dose, providing medication at the wrong time or mixing up patient charts can have serious, even life threatening consequences.

Since 2000, almost 100,000 medication errors have been reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Considering the generally accepted hypothesis that medication errors are underreported, the true number is likely even higher.

By definition, medication errors are preventable. Yet, thousands of Americans are harmed by them every single year. In one Alabama hospital, intensive prevention efforts have slashed the number of medication errors by half in just three short years.

Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham put medication error prevention plan in place

The medical journal Pediatric Blood & Cancer recently published a study that analyzed chemotherapy orders at the hospital Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham. Researchers looked at the years 2008 to 2011, during which a program was implemented in which all chemotherapy medication orders were prospectively reviewed when they were submitted. Before the study period began, Children’s of Alabama recorded six errors for every 1,000 patient encounters. By the end of the study, the error rate had dropped to just three per 1,000 patient encounters.

Many strategies can be implemented to reduce the number of medication errors

Other healthcare providers can learn from the initiative at Children’s of Alabama. Preventing harmful medication errors is a matter of checking, and rechecking work before drugs reach the patient. The American Academy of Family Physicians has several recommendations to help healthcare providers reduce the number of medication errors, including:

  • Use a minimum of two patient-specific identifiers, like name or date of birth, when administering meds
  • Ask about patient allergies before administering any medication, and note allergy information prominently in patient charts
  • Create a uniform system to measure patient height and weight (to ensure proper dosages are administered)
  • Maintain a list of high danger medications that pose a particularly great risk to patients if administered improperly and monitor use of these medications carefully
  • Takes steps to improve physician handwriting, avoid abbreviations in notes pertaining to medication and otherwise foster effective care team communication

Patients themselves can also take steps to help ensure they are not harmed by a medication error. One of the most effective things a patient can do to prevent medication errors is to be an active participant in his or her own care, speaking up about allergies and asking care providers to give a thorough explanation of the intended effects and possible complications before any medication is administered.

Medication errors can be avoided; if you’ve been harmed, talk to an attorney

In hospitals across the country, medication errors are still happening at an alarming rate. However, as shown at Children’s of Alabama, it is possible to drastically reduce the number of medication errors that occur in a relatively short period of time when targeted prevention strategies are implemented.

Medical malpractice liability is an important incentive that encourages hospitals to adopt safer practices. It also provides victims of medication errors with the compensation they need to address the fallout of a medical mistake. If you or a family member has been harmed by a medication error, talk to an injury attorney in Birmingham. You will not only be taking to first step in getting the compensation you deserve, you will be helping to make healthcare safer for future patients.

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