report details medication errors at outpatient facilities

Patients seek care at a variety of health care facilities, and it is imperative that medical staff at every single one leave no room for error. Pennsylvania has 265 licensed ambulatory surgery facilities, often referred to as outpatient centers. In all, nearly a million procedures a year are performed in these facilities.

Unfortunately, as with in-patient procedures, medication errors are not uncommon. The Patient Safety Authority has been attempting to reduce the number of errors that occur every year in Pennsylvania. As part of this effort, this independent state agency requires health care providers to report errors and “near misses,” including mistakes involving medication.

The numbers have been tallied for a five-and-a-half year period ending last year. During that time, the authority received 502 medication error reports. That is 502 mistakes that potentially put the health or even the lives of patients at risk, and that is just the number of errors reported by health care providers. Although there no data is available to accurately count unreported errors, it is safe to assume serious mistakes slipped through the cracks.

Many common errors were revealed by the report. These include failing to properly administer antimicrobials, which would prevent infection; administering the wrong drugs, including IV and ophthalmic medications; and situations in which patients were given drugs to which they were allergic.

The Patient Safety Authority, which was established in 2002 as part of Pennsylvania’s Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act, advocates ways to reduce these errors. Recommended corrections include standardizing the way patient allergy information is displayed; requiring labels on all medications and containers; and finding ways to differentiate between “look-alike” drug names.

Medication errors can and do result in severe injury and death, and this recent report shows that patients seeking care in Pennsylvania deserve better. Medical staff must be held accountable for mistakes or negligence. Medical facilities need to come up with ways to reduce the incidence of medication error.

Whether in Pennsylvania or elsewhere, all health care facilities should be actively seeking ways to prevent any complication or error that could endanger patients. It may save lives, and it is their duty.

Source: Philadelphia Business Journal, “Medical errors at outpatient surgery centers tallied in new Pa. report,” John George, Sept. 1, 2011

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