Report: Expect 40 serious errors daily

Potentially deadly medication errors are so common that a typical 300-bed hospital experiences 40 every day, according to a new report.

The errors include giving patients the wrong drug dose, delivering medication at the wrong time, administering an unauthorized drug, or forgetting to give patients their medicine. Those life-threatening mistakes occurred in almost one out of every five medication doses given in the hospitals and nursing facilities included in the study.

Kenneth N. Barker, MD, and colleagues from Auburn (AL) University report that 7% of the errors could be could lead to serious medical consequences. That 7% translates to more than 40 mistakes per day in a typical 300-bed facility, Barker says. (Arch Int Med 2002; 162:1,897-1,903.)

The study included potential adverse drug events such as giving insulin nearly three hours after it was due, or giving double the ordered dosage of verapamil, a drug that lowers blood pressure. The authors of the study say the findings underscore the need to improve the medication delivery and administration systems in health care facilities.

Barker studied observations from 36 hospitals and nursing facilities in Colorado and Georgia. A research pharmacist assessed the observations. Mistakes were made in 19% of doses given, or 605 of 3,216 doses. The most common error was giving medication at the wrong time (43% of errors), omitting medication (30%), giving patients the wrong dose (17%), and giving patients a drug that had not been authorized (4%).