presentation examines rates of hospital related drug errors

The American Pharmacists Association recently held its Annual Meeting and Exposition in Los Angeles. A highlight of the gathering was an eye-opening presentation discussing the current rate of prescription errors here in the U.S. and outlining how pharmacists — particularly those who work in hospital settings — can help improve patient care.

While most people might be tempted to think of medication errors as being confined to a local mega-chain pharmacy mixing up a patient name or drug from time to time, this is far from the truth.

Consider the following statistics:

  • Every year in the U.S., there is an average of 1.5 million otherwise preventable adverse drug events caused by medication errors, which cost a total of over $3 billion.
  • These adverse drug events are responsible for an estimated 2.5 percent of all visits to the emergency room and 6.7 percent of those resulting in hospitalization.

The statistics actually become all the more shocking in hospital settings, a place that most people would assume is immune to these kinds of medical mistakes:

  • The average hospital patient endures a least one medication error per day.
  • Nearly 50 percent of all hospital-related medication errors can be directly attributed to poor communication during admission, discharge and other transitions/interfaces of care.

Fortunately, the presenters indicated that hospitals can help combat the number of patients harmed by prescription errors by leveraging both the expertise of pharmacists and advancements in modern technology.

“Pharmacists are in a unique position to serve as patient advocates during care transitions and to optimize the use of health technology,” said James Owen, PhD, a senior official with the APhA.

The presentation highlighted a program used at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as being particularly effective in combating the number of hospital-related medication errors.

Here, the hospital has developed a tablet-accessible survey tool that enables medical professionals to identify those patients who may have issues with medication access, adherence to drug regimens and other issues. This information, in turn, is relayed to pharmacists who can visit with patients while they are still hospitalized or follow up with them after their discharge.

To date, the UPMC tool has been credited with identifying 774 medication discrepancies for 216 patients and much lower readmission rates.

Given the astounding rate of medication errors throughout the U.S., one can only hope that more hospitals make the correct choice to invest in the necessary technology to help keep patients safe.

Source: Medscape Today, “Pharmacists find new ways to improve care transitions,” Katharine Gammon, April 5, 2013

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