Medication errors drop thanks to pharmacists in the emergency department

Medication errors contribute to more than 7,000 deaths a year nationwide but one hospital has found a way to reduce those mistakes: it added pharmacists to the emergency department (ED) staff, NPR reports.

Children's Medical Center in Dallas has pharmacists who specialize in emergency medicine go over each medication to make sure the prescription and dose are correct, according to the article. The hospital aims to reduce medication errors, which often trace back to causes like bad handwriting or confusion over dosing units or similar names.

Children's has 10 full-time emergency pharmacists on call 24 hours a day, according to the article. "Every single order I put in is reviewed in real time by a pharmacist in the emergency department prior to dispensing and administering the medication," Chief Quality Officer Rustin Morse, M.D., a pediatric ED physician, told NPR.

Doctors are used to simply writing down medication information and moving on, presuming pharmacists will catch any potential errors, Morse said, but the ED is too fast-paced to make such assumptions. Extra review is particularly important in a children's hospital, according to the article, because medication errors are three times as likely among children compared to adults.

"[Children] have completely different metabolic rates that you have to look at," Clinical Pharmacy Manager Brenda Darling, M.D., told NPR, "so you have to know your patients."

Pharmacists at Children's review nearly 20,000 medications and prescription orders a week for factors like health insurance, weight, medications and allergies. In addition, the hospital has its electronic medical record system conduct automatic reviews of medication orders, according to the article.

This seems like a strategy all hospitals should adopt, but it's cost-prohibitive for smaller EDs, James Svenson, M.D., associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Wisconsin, told NPR.

"If you're in a small ER, it's hard enough just to have adequate staffing for your patients in terms of nursing and techs, let alone to have a pharmacist sitting down," he said. "If the volume isn't there it's hard to justify."

But pharmacists can play a major role in improving patient care and outcomes, particularly with regard to medication management, preventive care and patient education, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the NPR article