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Examining the causes of medication errors

Therapeutic medications allow countless people in Bozeman to enjoy relief from pain or sickness. Typically, the mechanism through which this relief is delivered involves suppressing certain physical and/or chemical reactions and responses in the body. While aimed at providing comfort from certain conditions or ailments, such interventions may, if applied incorrectly, cause damage. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that medication errors cause close 700,000 ED visits and 100,000 hospitalizations annually.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines a medication error as “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer.” According to adverse drug event reports received by the FDA, common causes of these errors include:

  •          Pharmacists confusing medications with similar names or appearances
  •          Dosage recommendation errors
  •          Clinicians misinterpreting drug orders
  •          Medications being switched in a clinical setting

Unfortunately, when it comes to the administration of medications, there may be little room for error. A patient who has received an incorrect or inappropriate amount of a drug could suffer anything from minor issues to life-threatening complications.

Some may point to the fact with such a large patient population reliant on medications, errors are inevitable. Indeed, the AHRQ estimates that almost one-third of all American adults routinely relies upon more than 5 medications. However, most attribute the majority of medication errors to be due to simple breakdowns in communication between providers. In the event that a nurse or pharmacist is unclear as to how much of a drug should be administered or what exact medication a doctor is ordered, the standard of care should be to get clarification from the ordering provider before giving it to a patient. 

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