Trend: Hospitals move to cut high-alert drug errors

The public got an unpleasant reminder of how devastating drug errors can be late last year, when the newborn twins of actor Dennis Quaid faced death due to a heparin overdose. It wasn't a freak accident, either. According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, studies show that eight medications (including heparin) account for 31 percent of all harmful medication errors.

Increasingly, hospitals have begun taking new precautions to prevent mistakes in the use of 19 categories of drugs termed "high-alert," those which have the highest risk of seriously harming or killing a patient when used incorrectly. Hospitals have begun overhauling their safety practices around such drugs, such as working with drugmakers to redesign confusing packages, removing concentrations of the same drug from supply cabinets, and investing in systems which check med order accuracy and patient allergies at the bedside. 

Meanwhile, hospitals and health systems are working to foster staff behaviors which will catch high-alert drug errors before they occur. For example, Saint Thomas Health Services of Nashville, Tenn., has added tough policies demanding that two staff members check before certain drugs are administered. The system is also creating training programs to help staffers detect errors before they happen--and helping them respond to mistakes promptly when they do take place.

In addition to internal efforts, many hospitals are also encouraging patients and families to be alert and to keep an eye on medications, particularly when infants and children are involved, given their special vulnerability.

To learn more about this trend:
- read this Wall Street Journal piece

Related Articles:
Cedars-Sinai cited for endangering pediatric patients. Report
Third baby dies at Indiana hospital due to heparin overdose. Report
Med errors encouraged by fast pharmacy pace. Report
CIOs say medication error prevention is top priority. FierceHealthIT
Study: Abbreviations cause 5 percent of drug errors. Report

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