Medication errors in the health care setting are fairly common, accounting for 3.5 million office visits and another 1 million emergency department encounters annually according to information from the National Institutes of Health. The problem is significant enough to affect 7 million patients in all patient care settings, costing about $21 billion per year. Various circumstances may lead to medication errors while the patient is under the care of health professionals, and most events are preventable. By identifying the primary and probable causes of medication errors, health care facilities are reducing and preventing the incidence of medication errors that may have adverse effects on patients’ health and their lives.
Establish and Enforce Strict Protocols
Health care facilities maintain a strict set of standards and guidelines for documenting the medication list for each patient regardless of the prescribing physician or facility. One of the more common causes of adverse drug events is a bad reaction from taking a cocktail of prescription drugs. This may happen when patients are under the care of different physicians for different ailments, and they fail to disclose the complete list of prescribed and over-the-counter medication that they currently take.
Health care facilities should establish a system of reporting, recording, updating and verifying the medication list for each patient. This system should be able to cross-reference medical records of a patient across different offices and facilities. Primary care physicians are typically the best source of information for the patient’s medical history as they tend to maintain an updated profile for patients who are compliant with the process.
Enforce the Five Rights of Medication
Institutional policies regarding medication protocols already exist. The five rights of medication state that the health care professional in charge of the patient should make sure that the right medicine is prescribed for the right patient in the correct and prescribed dose, which is then delivered in the appropriate route at the correct time per the doctor’s prescription. Some facilities may have systems in place where dispensing medicine and medical supplies requires the presence of two nurses to make sure that medications and dosing instructions are verified prior to administering to the patient.
Improve Communication Between Health Care Facilities and Physicians’ Offices
The advent of electronic health records has made it easier to update medical records. The EHR system has also made it more convenient for health professionals to share information that may be relevant to the diagnosis and treatment plan of all patients. There are loopholes in the EHR system because non-aligned facilities are usually unable to share information due to security issues. This is not a major setback because records may still be requested by phone and fax with the written authorization of patients.
Complying with Regulatory Efforts
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has promoted various initiatives to enhance patient safety in the health care setting. The FDA issued the Bar Code Label Rule that applies to certain drugs and biological products. Health professionals use scanning devices to access information about the medication and cross-reference that with the patient’s information according to the five-rights guidelines of medication administration.
Automating the Prescription, Transcription and Drug Dispensing System
Some medication errors result from poor transcription of verbal orders or misinterpretation of written orders. Automating the entire system eliminates these errors while creating records that other health care providers can use to verify and reference physicians’ instructions. Some of these platforms will automatically check for potentially harmful interactions while flagging non-standard instructions such as extremely high doses.
Health care facilities are at the forefront when it comes to preventing medication errors. Prevention strategies range from staff training to stricter enforcement of established best practices and deployment of technology to monitor and flag possible medication errors.
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