Healthcare News & Insights

New initiative to reduce medication errors: How hospitals must respond

Medication errors are a significant problem for hospitals and other healthcare providers across the globe. They’re also costly – and have the potential to cause a great deal of harm to patients. To help reduce these adverse events, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a new initiative to fight medication errors. 

According to a news release, the WHO’s Global Patient Safety Challenge on Medication Safety is designed to shore up the weaknesses in health systems that cause medication errors. Its goal is to cut medication errors in half around the world in the next five years. Currently, medication errors kill at least one person a day in the U.S, and they injure 1.3 million people each year.

Per the website for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), errors can happen at any point in the medication distribution process, from prescribing to administering. They may be caused by factors like communication issues, ambiguous product names and poor medication reconciliation procedures.

Other factors that could play into medication errors include a lack of product knowledge, job stress or similar product packaging or naming conventions.

Next steps for facilities

To cut back on medication errors, the WHO wants healthcare facilities to take corrective action in certain circumstances that make errors more likely, including situations where patients take multiple medications for different chronic conditions or are experiencing transitions of care (e.g., discharge from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility).

Here are six strategies hospitals can follow to reduce the chances of errors in these and other circumstances, as written in an article from Minority Nurse:

  1. Follow the “five rights” of medication administration. Before giving medication to a patient, staff must make sure they have the right patient, drug, route, dose and time.
  2. Review and double-check procedures for medication reconciliation. Nurses should verify that all new medication orders match what’s listed in the medication administration record. This information should be double-checked during shift changes, if possible. And it also must be received during transfers of care.
  3. Read it back. A clinical staffer should verbally read back a doctor’s medication order for a patient to make sure the correct medication has been listed.
  4. Ensure that medications are stored properly. Not only should providers make sure medications are stored at the proper temperature, they must also check that they’re labeled clearly and correctly. Additionally, it’s helpful to store medications with similar names in different places, so it’s harder to get them mixed up.
  5. Have a drug guide readily available for clinical staff. Whether it’s built into your hospital’s electronic health records (EHR) system or it’s a paper manual, clinical staff should have an easy way to reference possible side effects and drug reactions as medication’s being ordered.
  6. Document everything. All medication orders should be clearly documented in your hospital’s EHR, including any special instructions or notes from the physician about the medication. In addition, be sure to document when a patient last received a medication so overdosing won’t accidentally occur.

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