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How to Prevent Medication Errors: 4 Best Practices

Acute Care December 13, 2018

Each year in the U.S., serious preventable medication errors occur in 3.8 million inpatient admissions, according to the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation. In fact, according to Leapfrog Group, on average, one medication error occurs per patient per day.

Whether it is the wrong medication, a dosing error, a harmful drug interaction or other dispensing error, mistakes with medication orders can have serious health outcomes for patients.

They also are taking their toll on healthcare delivery costs. NEHI estimates that inpatient preventable medication errors cost approximately $16.4 billion annually. And, says the Leapfrog Group, one adverse drug event from a medication error adds more than $2,000 on average to the costs of hospitalization – $7.5 billion per year nationwide.

Reducing medication errors is a multi-pronged effort. Here are 4 best practices that hospitals are taking to help lower the number of medication errors.

1. Matching medication barcodes to patients

Leapfrog announced this fall that it will begin including barcode administration safety in it hospital patient safety grades. The new measure is one of 28 that assess a hospital’s quality and safety performance.  Says Modern Healthcare, the new measure “evaluates how well a hospital performs on a system in which medications are given specific barcodes. Before patients are administered drugs, nurses are expected to ensure the barcode on the medication matches the barcode on the patient’s wrist.”

2. Computerized physician order entry cuts medication errors in half

One study by Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that computerized physician order entry reduced medication errors by more than half. “Because approximately 90% of medication errors occur during manual ordering and transcribing (hand writing and interpreting the prescription), the use of CPOE systems can help eliminate these types of errors,” notes Leapfrog.

3. Medication reconciliation reduces adverse drug effects

Medication reconciliation – having a complete and correct list of all medications a patient is taking – is another key way to reduce adverse drug events that can prolong hospital stays, add to healthcare costs and increase the likelihood for readmissions. Medication discrepancies occur in up to 70% of patients at hospital admission or discharge.

4. Educating patients & keeping them engaged

Educating patients on their medications is another important ingredient in reducing errors. Notes NEHI, “Medication errors can be reduced through active engagement of patients and family caregivers with the care team and the use of patient safety checklists.”

Using interactive patient engagement technology helps hospitals automate medication education, while making it convenient for the patient to learn about their medications from their hospital bed. Take for example a patient who is prescribed three medications during their stay, two of which they will need to continue to take after discharge.  Through the Sentrics E3 solution, their nurse can assign medication safety videos for the patient to watch from the comfort of their room.

As each medication is prescribed, the patient is notified in their E3 inbox that displays on their television. The patient then can access essential information about the prescription, side effects, how to take it and what it is for. Before discharge, the nurse uses the E3 system’s discharge checklist to confirm that the patient has read/watched all the medication information, and can answer any questions at the bedside. The result is a better informed patient who is less likely to require a readmission due to a medication error at home.

“Using care coordination strategies, interdisciplinary teamwork and information technologies can significantly reduce preventable medication errors,” notes NEHI.

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