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Patients often left in the dark after medication errors

We live in a world with countless prescription drugs that help us to live longer, healthier lives. But, as most people in Ohio and the rest of the nation know, prescription medications can be just as dangerous as they are helpful when used incorrectly.

All too often, the wrong medication is administered to patients in hospitals, setting back their recovery times or causing even worse damage. But what’s most shocking is that a new study reveals that patients and their families are rarely told of medication errors after they occur.

The study involved analyzing data from about 840,000 medication errors that were voluntarily reported in 537 United States hospitals between 1999 and 2005. The researchers determined that medication errors were most likely to cause harm if they occurred in ICUs, where the most vulnerable patients are cared for.

The findings, which were recently reported in the journal “Critical Care Medicine,” concluded that failing to give a patient medication was the mistake most likely to result in patient death. Errors involving devices (e.g., intravenous lines) and mistakes involving incorrect dosages were also among the most harmful, the study showed.

A lead author of the study said the results were consistent with past research on medication errors in hospitals. But the study also provides a new look at what happens after  the errors are committed. He said the data revealed that no actions were taken after medication errors more than half of the time.

The patients and their families were immediately informed about medication errors less than 2 percent of the time, and the hospital staff members responsible for the mistakes were only informed about their errors about a third of the time. The lead author said the results contradict the consensus that patients and their families want to be fully informed of all errors right away.

Source:  Reuters, “When hospitals make mistakes with medications, they rarely tell the patient,” Jan. 14, 2013