NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Study Finds Many Drug Errors

September 13, 2002

In a new study, researchers found numerous drug errors in hospitals and nursing homes. The rates are similar to those in other reports on drug errors, but the new study highlights a specific point in the process of getting a drug to a patient: "administering errors" made by nurses or other hospital staffers after a doctor has properly prescribed a drug.

Other studies focused on earlier steps, such as doctors prescribing the wrong drug, or pharmacists incorrectly reading a doctor's messy handwriting.

The study, which did not evaluate death or injury rates, is published in Archives of Internal Medicine. According to the report:

  • More than 40 potentially harmful drug errors daily were found on average in hospitals.
  • Errors occurred in nearly one of five doses in a typical, 300-bed hospital, which translates to about two errors per patient daily.
  • The most common errors were giving hospitalized patients medication at the wrong time or not at all.
  • Seven percent of the errors were considered potentially harmful.

The researchers said their findings support implications in a highly publicized 1999 Institute of Medicine report suggesting that the nation's hospitals have "major systems problems." The IOM report said medical errors contribute to more than 1 million injuries and up to 98,000 deaths annually.

The study follows the recent announcement of six safety standards the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations will require starting in January to reduce medical errors. The new standards require better methods of preventing drug errors, and hospitals that don't measure up could risk losing accreditation and federal money.

Source: Kenneth N. Barker et al., "Medication Errors Observed in 36 Health Care Facilities," Archives of Internal Medicine, September 9, 2002; "Study Finds Many Drug Errors," and ABC News (Associated Press), Sept 8, 2002.


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