Study: Patient-controlled pain meds cause harm more often

A new study has concluded that when patients receive intravenous patient-controlled analgesia (PCA)--which allows them to control their own pain medication--they face risks not typical of other medications. The study, appearing in this month's issue of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality, concluded that patients are four times more likely to be harmed using PCA. What's more, PCA errors were more severe than other types of med errors.

To draw this conclusion, researchers looked at more than 9,500 PCA errors over a five-year period in the U.S. They concluded that patient harm took place in 6.5 percent of incidents involving PCA, compared with 1.5 percent for other medication errors. PCA errors typically involved either wrong dosages or wrong drugs, equipment failure or communication problems.

To prevent such PCA errors, researchers suggest that facilities simplify the technical equipment used for PCA, use bar codes with an electronic administration record and ask pharmacies to design easily understood forms for PCA (which providers should always use).

To learn more about this study:
- read this press release

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