Medication errors are so easy to make and so dangerous to the patient. Hospitals must go to great lengths to prevent them.
Josh Barron was only 17 months old, strapped in his family’s minivan, when he was badly injured in a rollover crash that killed his mother. After five days of steady recovery, the hospital made a catastrophic, preventable error. The toddler was given an adult-size dose of medication, which killed him.
Unfortunately, medication errors are all too easy to make, even when lives are at stake. In a fast-paced hospital environment where thousands of medications may be distributed every hour, a doctor can misplace a decimal point in the prescription, ordering too strong a dose. A distracted pharmacist might miss the dosage error and send the drug to the floor. A busy nurse might forget to double check at the bedside. Patient allergies or drug interactions can be overlooked.
Indeed, medication errors are the most common error made in hospitals. Many may be relatively benign, like an upset stomach. Others can bring tragedy, like the death of Josh Barron. Errors in hospitals are estimated to kill more than 500 people every day.
Because medication errors are so easy to make and so dangerous to the patient, hospitals must go to great lengths to prevent them. The good news is that there is growing use of technology to dramatically reduce errors. Here are two technologies that the safest hospitals use:
- Entering prescriptions through a computer: Instead of writing out prescriptions by hand, hospitals can use Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) systems to order medications for patients in the hospital. Good CPOE systems will sound an alert if the doctor tries to order a medication that could harm the patient. Safer hospitals use CPOE systems in all areas of the hospital and regularly test those systems to ensure they are alerting doctors to potential ordering errors.
- Barcoding at the bedside: Electronic systems scan both a bar code on a patient’s ID bracelet and a bar code on the medication itself (which may be a pill bottle, IV bag, or other package) to make sure the patient is receiving the right medications. If the bar codes do not match, this signals there is an error, giving nurses and doctors the chance to confirm they have the right patient, right medication, and right dose.
You can find out which hospitals use these technologies successfully by searching at www.hospitalsafetygrade.org. The time for hospitals to act is now. As Josh’s dad Ridley Barron said, ”Health care workers are human. But mistakes don’t have to touch our loved ones. We must do everything we can to make sure that every preventable error becomes a distant memory. Every life matters. Every half-second counts.”