Over the past few years, inappropriate medication use among older patients has come under the spotlight. Research into the topic showed that seniors were being prescribed drugs they didn’t need, were being under-prescribed medications they did need, or were simply given inappropriate drugs.
Everyone scrambled to make changes. Reports suggested that drugs should be prescribed by a team of healthcare providers. And, patients should be included in the prescribing process so that they have a clear idea of what medications they are being given and why.
It also came to light that errors were a common and serious problem. It turns out that these errors accounted for a number of unnecessary hospital visits each year. Prescription errors were causing some pretty serious symptoms in people who took the wrong medication, in the wrong amounts. The culprits, in this case, were the handwritten prescription notes scribbled by doctors. The writing was almost illegible in some cases, leading to errors by pharmacists, healthcare providers, and patients.
Other problems were found as well that put patients at risk and so intensive efforts were begun to improve patient safety. But, despite this, a six-year study just published shows no decline in patient “harms,” including medical errors and unavoidable mistakes.
A research team sorted through patients’ medical records from more than 2,300 randomly selected hospital admissions. The researchers found 588 instances of patient harm, which included hospital-acquired infections, surgical errors, and medication dosage mistakes.
Most medical errors caused only minor and temporary problems for patients. However, the researchers did find that 50 of 588 incidences of harm were life-threatening, 17 resulted in permanent problems, and 14 people died. The research team selected 10 North Carolina hospitals for the study, because the state has shown a strong commitment to patient safety.
Slightly more than half of the errors were avoidable, the research team said. They were also quick to point out that patient safety has likely improved since the study concluded three years ago.
The research team would like to see further improvement in work-hour limits for medical staff, as well as the use of electronic medical records and computerized work-order entries for prescriptions and procedures.