In the mid-90s, two articles published in the prestigous Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that medication errors created a terrible human and economic toll (LL Leape et al, “Systems analysis of adverse drug events…” JAMA 274 (07/05/19950; DC Classen et al, “Adverse drug events in hospitalized patients….” JAMA). Various studies by the medical professiona and pharmaceutical industry estimated incidents of medication errors to hopsitalized patients at between 770,000 and 2 million per year, with deaths possibly exceeding 100,000 annually.
Recommendations were made for urgent changes, including upgrading hospital computer systems, standardization of medication practices, elimination of confusing abbreviations, and better training of personnel with the responsibility of mixing or delivering medications. Ten years later, the problem of medication errors remains one of staggering magnitude. The Institute of Medicine of The National Academies. reports that medication errors continue to injure approximately 1.5 million people each year. A significant percentage of errors continue to cause serious injury and death. While hospitals are required to report medication errors causing significant harm to a patient, many cases go unreported – to governmental regulatory authorities, and to the patient’s family. The causes of the vast majority of medication errors are well known by the medical, hospital, and pharmaceutical professions, as are the necessary solutions – I will discuss causes and solutions in another posting. What is needed now is the will and the funding to implement what is already known.