Government studies and investigations have shown that about half of all prescription medication errors could be prevented. Administering an incorrect drug and other medication errors account for the hospitalization of 100,000 people each year 700,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms throughout the country.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, points out that doctors and other health care professionals have the ability to choose from more than 10,000 prescription drugs. Depending on the illness being treated, the number of medications that might be appropriate for a patient adds to the decisions a doctor must make in determining the best way to treat a particular patient.
More choices may also mean a higher potential for administering an incorrect drug or making a dosage mistake. The AHRQ report notes that some patients, regardless of how much care goes into prescribing the medications, will suffer from an adverse reaction.
According to the AHRQ, medication error may occur through commission, as where a pharmacist fails to note a dangerous combination of prescriptions in a patient's records, or through omission, such as not checking for allergies before administering a medication to a patient.
Recommendations for preventing medication errors include:
- Making conservation choices when prescribing to avoid unnecessary medications
- Computerized systems to avoid errors due to the failure to read doctor's handwriting properly
- Using barcodes to avoid administering an incorrect drug to a patient
- Improved drug labels to help patients to understand instructions for taking their medicine
Even with the use of technology and improvements in the methods for prescribing and administering medications to patients, the fallibility of humans continues to be a factor. Errors by people who play key roles in the health care system will mean that medication errors caused by the negligent physician or by the negligent pharmacist will continue to be factors leading to the wrong medication being prescribed or a dosage mistake being made.