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Medication Errors

The Institute of Medicine Study, To Err is Human, reported in 2000 that medication-related errors account for one out of 131 outpatient deaths and one out of 854 inpatient deaths. Although not all medication errors cause harm, those that do can be very costly.  At two large teaching hospitals, it was found that approximately two percent of admissions experienced a preventable adverse drug event. These preventable events resulted in average increased hospital costs of $2.8 million annually for a 700-bed teaching hospital.

Medication errors obviously can also occur at nursing homes, pharmacies and in doctor’s offices. There are multiple steps involved in the medication administration process including prescription, dispensing, distribution, administration, and monitoring. More hospitals have improved their patient safety programs through technology designed to reduce human error. However, medication errors still exist. 

Causes of medication errors can include wrong medications, illegible orders, preparation errors, missed doses, equipment failures, inadequate monitoring, drug-drug interactions, wrong technique (rate and route) of administration.  Sometimes, an error in the medication process can cause a chain reaction leading to multiple causes of medication errors.

Medication errors can cause prolonged hospitalization due to permanent injury and even death. If this has occurred, a detailed review of the medical records is recommended to evaluate the cause of the error and relationship to the patient’s clinical course and outcome.

Here is some advice to help reduce the risk of a medication error:1

  • Bring a list of your medications, dose and how often you take them to the hospital so that doctors and nurses will know what you are taking.
  • Bring a list of medications you cannot take due to allergic reactions and give it to the doctors and nurses involved in your care.
  • Do not let anyone give you medication without checking your hospital ID bracelet every time to prevent getting someone else’s medication.
  • Be sure to ask questions regarding the names of your medications and the reasons you are taking them.
  • Request any information that is available about your medications so that you understand the potential benefits as well as potential risks  for drug interactions and side effects.
  • Before having any tests which require dyes, be sure to remind the nurse or doctor if you have allergies.
  • Before going home, ask the doctor, nurse or pharmacist go over each medication with you and a family member.
  • If you're too ill to follow these instructions, ask a friend or relative to help.

1 Institute for Safe Medication Practices (2006). General Advice on Safe Medication Use. Retrieved from;

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