NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 7, 2008

Medicine mix-ups, accidental overdoses and bad drug reactions harm roughly one out of 15 hospitalized children, according to the first scientific test of a new detection method, according to a new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics.

Other findings:

  • Researchers found a rate of 11 drug-related harmful events for every 100 hospitalized children.
  • That compares with an earlier estimate of two per 100 hospitalized children, based on traditional detection methods.
  • The rate reflects the fact that some children experienced more than one drug treatment mistake.
  • The new estimate translates to 7.3 percent of hospitalized children, or about 540,000 kids each year, a calculation based on government data.
  • Simply relying on hospital staffers to report such problems had found less than 4 percent of the problems detected in the new study.

The new monitoring method developed for the study is a list of 15 "triggers" on young patients' charts that suggest possible drug-related harm.  It includes use of specific antidotes for drug overdoses, suspicious side effects and certain lab tests.  By contrast, traditional methods include non-specific patient chart reviews and voluntary error reporting.

The researchers said their findings highlight the need for "aggressive, evidence-based prevention strategies to decrease the substantial risk for medication-related harm to our pediatric inpatient population."

Patient safety experts said the problem is likely even bigger than the study suggests because it involved only a review of selected charts.  Also, the study didn't include general community hospitals, where most U.S. children requiring hospitalization are treated.

Source: "Med Mix-Ups Hurt 1 In 15 Kids," USA Today, April 7, 2008.

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