Seniors: At Risk for Medication Errors

Patients Don't Get Medications, Get Wrong Dosage

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 18, 2003 -- One-third of medication errors in the nation's hospitals involve patients over age 65. And although most medical errors are not harmful, those that are fatal occur predominantly in seniors.

The U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), a nonprofit group of pharmacists, and other health care professionals that develop standards for prescription drug use and monitors medication errors provided this annual report.

The report -- which reflects 192,477 medication errors voluntarily reported by 482 facilities nationwide -- calls for more action in reducing these errors among seniors, the country's most vulnerable population.

"We are seeing a strong upsurge in the number of medication errors," says Diane Cousins, RPH, with the Center for the Advancement of Patient Safety at USP, in a news release.

"As the senior population continues to increase, USP is calling for hospitals to focus on reducing medication errors among seniors," she says. "Seniors and their families need to become more involved in their care."

Among the findings:

  • A majority (55%) of fatal hospital medication errors reported involved seniors
  • 35% of medical errors are not caught before they reach the patient involve seniors
  • 4.2% of errors involved giving the wrong patient a medication
  • 43% of errors involved not giving patients their prescribed medications
  • 18% related to dosage or quantity
  • 11% involved giving unauthorized drugs to patients

Also, errors related to insulin, heparin, and morphine continue to cause the most severe injury to patients, the report says.

Of the 192,477 medication errors that USP found, the majority were corrected before causing harm to the patient, the report shows.

However 3,213 resulted in patient injury; 514 of those required either hospital admission or a longer hospital stay; 47 required life-sustaining interventions; and 20 resulted in the patient's death. Compared with information from 2001, a smaller percentage of reported errors resulted in harm to the patient: 1.7% in 2002 versus 2.4% in 2001.

Hospitals gave several reasons for the medication errors: 43% cited workplace distractions; 36% said staffing issues; 22% said workload increases.

By identifying medical errors trends and problem areas, hospitals will be better able to prevent future errors and reduce patient harm and injuries, concludes Cousins.

SOURCE: U. S. Pharmacopeia.

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