Medication errors are highly preventable mistakes that can have devastating consequences.
Every year, more than 100,000 hospitalizations in Texas and around the country occur due to an adverse drug event, or an incident in which a drug harms a patient. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, an astounding 700,000 emergency room visits occur every year for the same reason.
These events happen for a number of reasons, but one common thread in many situations is that the incident is highly preventable. Both physicians and patients can take the steps to keep a medication error from occurring.
Know the risk factors
The AHRQ points out that some people may be more at risk for suffering an adverse drug event. For example, people who take multiple medications are more likely to suffer an adverse event. Children who are hospitalized may also be more vulnerable because drugs for children are dosed based on weight, which can lead to a medication error.
There are also certain medications that have been deemed high-risk. Some of these drugs are risky because their names sound like the names of other drugs that have very different chemical properties. Others on the list look similar to other drugs, and still others are on the list because they simply have dangerous side effects.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that it has committed more resources to improving drug safety and reducing the number of defective drugs. This includes placing bar codes on drugs so they are scanned prior to giving a dosage to a patient, ensuring there is no error prior to administration. Additionally, the FDA has started to review the names of drugs closely to prevent medications from having names that are too similar and therefore subject to confusion.
Medical facility and staff
There must be a system in place so medical facilities avoid adverse drug events. This includes a way to check to ensure that the patient is given the correct drug and the correct dosages. Using a computer system can help prevent human error. For example, instead of a nurse or pharmacist trying to read a doctor’s handwriting, he or she can simply read a transmitted message.
By and large, doctors and other medical professionals have a duty to ensure that patients do not suffer due to a drug reaction. However, there are some items that patients can do to improve their safety. The AHRQ offers the following tips:
- Ensure that doctors know the patient’s complete medical history
- Alert the doctor to any drug allergies the patient has
- Ask the doctor about any potential side effects
- Tell the doctor about any other medications the patient is taking
Most importantly, patients should always feel they can speak up if they have a concern about a medication, its side effects or any other issue related to their health.
Anyone who has concerns about this issue should consult with a physician.