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Medication Mistakes On Rise

A new study shows thousands of patients harmed by medication errors in American hospitals each year. And the number of reported errors is on the rise.

Four years ago, a report from the Institute of Medicine estimated tens of thousands of deaths annually were due to medical mistakes in hospitals around the country.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says this year's report details almost 200,000 medication errors in the year 2002, as voluntarily and anonymously reported by about 500 hospitals and health care facilities around the country.

The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) set up a database to keep track of mistakes in prescribing and dispensing medication in an effort to help hospitals report, understand and hopefully prevent those mistakes in the future.

The vast majority of the errors reported in the study were corrected before causing harm to the patient.

But, the study did find the following:

  • 3,213 errors resulted in patient injury
  • 514 errors required initial or prolonged hospitalization
  • 47 cases required interventions to save life
  • 20 cases resulted in a patient's death

    The report also found that more than one-third of hospital medication errors that affect the patient involved adults over 65 years old, and older patients were twice as likely to be harmed by an error.

    Senay says mistakes occur for a variety of reasons, but lack of communication between doctors and health care workers is a common problem. Errors included giving the wrong medication, the wrong dose and even medicating the wrong patient.

    Not all hospitals are reporting their mistakes, so it's hard to tell whether the increase indicates a worsening problem or that simply more mistakes are being reported due to heightened awareness.

    The percentage of patients actually harmed decreased from the previous year despite increased number of errors reported. Senay says health care workers are encouraged to report mistakes anonymously without fear of punishment, so that dangerous situations can be corrected instead of being covered up.

    To help minimize medication errors, according to Senay, patients and their families should know the names of medications, the prescribed dosage and frequency and duration of treatment. And if possible, the patient should state his or her name before receiving medication. And patients should always ask questions if they're not sure about whether they're receiving appropriate care.