medication errors can turn into tragedies

The population of the U.S. is aging, and advances in medicine are helping people live linger than in the past. As baby boomers get older, more are relying on medications to keep them healthy. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that over 30 percent of people in the U.S. take five or more medications each day. Some people can take 10 or more medications each day. With so many people taking so many pills, the chances of medication errors increase substantially.

Various studies about the prevalence of medication errors in the U.S. have estimated that tens of millions of medication errors occur each year, causing about 1.5 million injuries and 200,000 fatalities. Many experts believe that the numbers are even higher but that many of these errors go unreported.

The Institute of Medicine reports that patients who are in the hospital experience on average one medication error each day. Mistakes happen at various stages of the treatment process. Staff may transcribe the medication a doctor prescribed incorrectly, administer the wrong dose of the medication or even give the medication to the wrong patient. While in many cases medication errors are caught by staff before they cause harm, such mistakes can be fatal. The elderly often feel the greatest impact of medication errors. Institute of Medicine data shows that the majority of those who die from medication errors are over 65 years old.

Mistakes with medication are completely preventable. Hospital patients are at the mercy of the staff and must rely on staff members to give them the correct medications. When hospital workers do not do so competently, patients suffer needlessly. Health care workers need to be held accountable for their mistakes and compensate patients for their losses. Doing so may force hospitals to institute systems that will prevent medication errors in the future.

Source: my, “FOX 5 Investigates: Medication mistakes that can kill,” Sherri Ly, July 11, 2013

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