Hospital Patients are Subject to an Average of One Medication Error per Day

A report from the Institute of Medicine finds that hospital patients in the U.S., on average, experience one medication error per day. Errors may include incorrect dosages, administering a drug with the incorrect method, or administering the wrong drug altogether. Some errors involve prescription of a drug with incomplete information about a patient’s health history or allergies, leading to harmful reactions. Researchers also found instances of errors in which doctors and nurses did not have up-to-date information on the drugs they were prescribing and therefore did not know of newly-discovered risks. The report found a hospital medication error rate of eleven percent in its study and estimated that hospital patients receive an average of ten medication dosages each day.

Current estimates place the total number of annual deaths due to hospital medical errors at 7,000, and the total number of injuries at 1.3 million. Research shows that medication errors can lead to extensions of hospital stays of 8 to 12 days on average, leading to additional costs of $16,000 to $24,000 for the patients. Studies have found medication errors to occur in up to 3.7 percent of all hospitalizations. The total cost of injuries and deaths due to medication errors could be as high as $5.6 million per year per hospital.

Researchers have proposed many possible reasons for the number of medication errors known to occur. A 2002 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association linked a patient’s chancing of dying during routine hospital procedures to lower nurse-to-patient ratios, finding that the risk decreased as the number of patients assigned to each nurse in a hospital decreased. A recent study from Johns Hopkins University found a connection between medication errors and widespread use of temporary staff, including temporary doctors and nurses, in hospital emergency rooms. Johns Hopkins researchers concluded that errors may result from temporary staff’s lack of familiarity with a particular hospital’s systems and procedures. A 2006 study from the University of California at San Diego found a ten percent increase in fatal medication errors in area with teaching hospitals during the month of July. July is the month when medical school graduates first report to teaching hospitals. The study seems to confirm anecdotal evidence of the “July Effect,” where injuries and deaths in hospitals allegedly spike during the summer months.

Regardless of the conditions of hospital facilities or staff, hospitals, doctors and nurses have a duty of care to their patients to provide competent service, and this includes taking care to ensure correct prescription, dosage, and administration of medications. The fast-paced and often overcrowded nature of many hospitals creates a risk of error, and while a patient should certainly exercise diligence in monitoring their own treatment and medication as much as possible, the responsibility mainly lies with the nurses and doctors and the hospitals that employ them.

The Maryland medication error attorneys at Lebowitz and Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers are experienced in protecting the rights of patients who have been injured due to hospital errors. Contact the firm to discuss your case.

Hospitals Report an Average of One Medication Error per Patient per Day, U.S. Politics Today, August 31, 2011
Temporary ER Staff Linked to More Medication Errors, U.S. News & World Report, August 30, 2011
The ‘July Effect’: Worst Month For Fatal Hospital Errors, Study Finds, ABC World News, June 3, 2010
Study links nurse-patient ratio, mortality / Research shows death rate increases with workload, burnout, San Francisco Chronicle, October 23, 2002

Related Web Resources:

Preventing Medication Errors: Quality Chasm Series, Report of the Institute of Medicine, July 20, 2006

Facts About Medication Errors: The Case for Improved IV Medication Safety, Braun Medical, Inc.

More Blog Posts:

Reducing Medication Error Injury by Keeping Health Record Journals, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, August 30, 2011
Safety of Electronic Medical Records Questioned After Pharmacy Error Leads to Death of Infant, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, August 3, 2011
Hospital Sued for Wrongful Death After Patient Dies from Drug Error, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, March 22, 2011

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