NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Medication Errors Increasing

November 18, 2003

Hospitals continued to make a large number of medication errors despite efforts to cut down on those mistakes, according to a study of several hundred hospitals. Older patients, the study found, are disproportionately harmed by the medication problems.

The findings were made in the fourth annual release of results from a database run by U.S. Pharmacopeia, a nonprofit group of pharmacists and other health-care professionals.

  • For 2002, the year of the latest study, the database saw what it called a "large upsurge" in reported errors, which were up by 82 percent although institutions reporting to the database had grown by only 31 percent.
  • The latest data shows that Pharmacopeia received 192,477 reports of medication errors to its database.
  • Some 1.7 percent of the cases required intervention to save patients' lives or resulted in permanent harm, a decline from 2.4 percent a year earlier; twenty deaths were linked to medication errors.
  • Older patients, 65 or older, were twice as likely to be harmed by a medication error; more than half of the deaths linked to medication errors involved geriatric patients.

The problem of medication errors first received widespread notice four years ago in a report by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Science. The report said medication errors resulted in an estimated 7,000 deaths a year and were costing the health-care system $2 billion a year through longer and costlier hospital stays.

Source: David Armstrong, "Study Finds Increase In Medication Errors At U.S. Hospitals," Wall Street Journal, November 18, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB106911338635261400,00.html

For study information


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