One of the most common medical errors involves medications. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and patients can make them, possibly resulting in harm to patients, worsened conditions and death.

What are medication errors?

Medication errors are defined by The National Coordinating Council for Mediation Error and Prevention as events that are:

  • Preventable
  • Can lead to patient harm
  • Happen while medication is in the care of health care professionals, consumers or patients

Reports say that medication errors cost $177 billion every year in the U.S. and affect approximately 1.5 million people.

How do medication errors happen?

These incidents can occur because of many preventable errors, including:

  • Ineligible prescriptions
  • Insufficient information about medications and how they interact with others
  • Incorrect drug or dosage prescribed
  • Names mixed up when said or written
  • Prescription is not sent to the pharmacy
  • Patient does not fill prescription
  • Physician medication sampling leading to inadequate documentation and review

What can prevent medication errors?

Errors with medications are preventable. The Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy says that the first way to avoid these incidents is patient education. Health care professionals should be ensuring that their patients are knowledgeable about the names, proper handling and care for their medications.

There are also many electronic programs that can be utilized by hospitals and pharmacies in order to ensure proper medication distribution, including:

  • Prior authorization programs that reduce risk of patients receiving drugs they are not safe to take
  • Bar coding creates a system of tracking and monitoring medications
  • Electronic prescription records show health care professionals a patient’s history and can help in avoiding drugs that interact poorly
  • Electronic drug utilization reviews by pharmacists create another barrier for patients to receive inappropriate medications
  • Automated medication dispensing systems ensures correct drug and dosage given to patients
  • Internal quality control procedures often cover final dispensing and safety checks

While medication errors are preventable, they do happen. Still, health care professionals are working every day to ensure safer processes for patients.