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Understanding the Nature and Danger of Medication Errors

Medications are one of the backbones of disease management. However, reported cases of medication errors have been growing in alarming numbers. It has been shown that women are 1.2 times more likely to experience a medication error than men.

A study in the Philippines has shown a 97.8% prevalence rate of medication errors. Research conducted in the United Kingdom has shown that 38% of patients who are 75 years and older have been affected by prescribing and monitoring errors, while a Swedish study concludes a 42% medication error rate.

Patient care and treatment is a complex process that involves several members of a healthcare team working together with the patient towards a common goal. Because of this, medication errors can happen in any of these steps in the treatment process.

What are Medication Errors?

Medication errors refer to any preventable incident related to improper medication use that can harm the patient. These events can be under the control of the healthcare professional or the patient.

Types of Medication Errors

Patient care is a multidisciplinary approach and medication errors can happen in any of the following steps in disease management:

  • Prescribing Errors. These errors occur due to wrong medical assessment and decisions usually on the part of the physician. These include the wrong choice of drug, wrong dose, wrong drug form, and incomplete or illegible drug order.
  • Dispensing Errors. These errors happen when there is a discrepancy between the prescribed and the dispensed medicine. These include the failure to dispense the correct dosage and form of the prescribed drug. Poor drug quality is also classified as a dispensing error.
  • Administration Errors. These errors cover the failure to follow the following 5 major Rs of drug administration:
    • Right medication
    • Right dose
    • Right time
    • Right route
    • Right patient
  • Patient Compliance Errors. These errors are attributed to the patient’s poor drug monitoring and improper compliance with drug frequency and dose.
Common Causes of Medication Errors

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are several factors that influence medication errors.

  1. Healthcare professional factor
  • Inadequate drug knowledge and experience
  • Inadequate knowledge of the patient
  • Underestimation of associated risks
  • Lack of training
  • Overworked healthcare professionals
  • Physical and emotional health issues of healthcare professionals
  • Poor communication between the healthcare professional and the patient
  1. Patient factor
  • Patient profile (literacy, personality and language barriers)
  • Complexity of the medical case, including multiple health problems, polypharmacy (multiple drug intake) and high-risk medications
  • Patient adherence, perception, and monitoring
  1. Work environment factor
  • Workload and time pressures
  • Distractions and interruptions (by both healthcare professionals and patients)
  • Lack of standardized protocols and procedures
  • Insufficient resources
  • Problems with the physical work environment (lighting, temperature, and ventilation)
  1. Medicine factor
  • Name of medicines
  • Labelling and packaging
How Can Patients Prevent Medication Errors?

The blame regarding medication errors is not to be thrown at healthcare professionals alone. As a patient, you have your own share of responsibilities as well. To prevent medication errors, you should do the following measures:

  1. Get to know your medicine better. Ask your doctor about your medicine, why you need to take it, its benefits on your treatment, and the side effects you can expect from it. A better understanding of your medicine and its effects is likely to improve your adherence to your treatment.
  2. Organize your medicines. Keeping your medicines organized in pill containers will prevent the likelihood of getting them mixed up, especially when you are working or traveling. Storing your pills in a pill holder for purse use that features mini-compartments for each day of the week can guarantee a stress-free, organized, and clutter-free storage system that you can take with you anywhere.
  3. Keep a medication log. To ensure the best care, your doctors need to know the history of the medicines you have taken and the ones you are currently taking in order to prevent drug interactions. Jotting down your medicines in a journal or a medication log can save you the stress of trying to recall the name of these medicines. Remembering the dosage, intervals, and duration of multiple drugs can be really hard, especially for busy people.
  4. If there is something you don’t understand regarding your medication regimen and the doctor’s prescription (like in the case of illegible handwriting), never hesitate to ask. Remember that drugs are toxic to your kidneys and liver, regardless of their beneficial effects and taking the wrong drug (with wrong dosage, route, and form) is even worse.

Adherence to medication is not to be taken lightly. Improper and wrong medication intake can lead to dangerous drug interactions and adverse effects that may harm your liver and kidneys. As a patient, you need to have an adequate understanding of the importance of proper medication intake. Your role in patient care is under the compliance stage of the treatment process so proper monitoring of your drug intake is a responsibility you shouldn’t take for granted.


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