Million-and-a-Half People Hurt by Medication Errors Annually

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According to a recently published report, it turns out that in the United States, 1.5 million people faced injury due to errors in their medication — the majority of these individuals being seniors. This is a frightening statistic, especially for seniors. They are most susceptible to these errors, as they are the group that takes medications the most. The report is the newest one among many others that point out the frequency of errors that occur when it comes to drug prescriptions and administration methods.

The report comes from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, which received backing by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The startling number of 1.5 million is compounded by the fact that these errors end up costing hospitals in the U.S. a staggering $43.5 billion annually, which doesn’t even touch upon all the other costs involved, such as victims’ lost salaries and other heath care costs.

According to the study, the numbers sit as follows in the U.S.: 400,000 drug-related injuries that happen in hospitals annually could have been prevented; 800,000 of the injuries happen in long-term health care settings; and 530,000 happen among Medicare recipients who are in outpatient facilities.

Those are very serious statistics, which are set into sharp relief by another report from 2004 that noted an average of 195,000 Medicare patients died in the U.S. because of in- hospital medical errors, which possibly could have been prevented. This was for the years 2000, 2001, and 2002.

Yet another report that was published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that almost 10 adverse drug events happened every month among 100 residents of long-term care facilities. On top of this, the study also noted that 42% of all medication errors could have been prevented and 61% of serious, life- threatening, and deadly adverse events were also preventable.

You may think that when you are in the hospital, you are safe from these errors. Unfortunately that is not the case. In fact, estimates state that at least one medication error happens per hospital patient every day (although this varies from hospital to hospital). This doesn’t mean that the errors lead to injury or death, but a lot of them are preventable. Besides the fact that many patients needlessly suffer from these errors, the staggering cost of what happens cannot even be calculated, but do keep in mind that they are astronomically high, according to the report.

For example, a study focusing on outpatient clinics found that medication-related injuries in these facilities resulted in roughly $887 million in extra medical costs in 2000. Keep in mind that the study only looked at Medicare recipients who experienced injuries, which comprise of a subset of the clinics’ visitors. Also note that none of these numbers add in lost wages, declines in productivity, or other associated costs.

These numbers are quite high and rather severe when you think about what they mean for patients, who are on medication, which frankly is a large portion of the aging population. So what do medication errors include? They are all mistakes that involve prescription drugs, over-the- counter medications, and even natural medications, such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs. Errors can happen at any stage, be it during the time of prescription writing to the administration of the medication to monitoring the person’s reaction to it.

What can you do to prevent these errors from happening? The report provides several suggestions, which you will want to keep in mind the next time you are handed a prescription for any type of medication or treatment. For starters, make sure you maintain a strong partnership between you and your health care provider. Openly communicate with your doctor about the medication he/she prescribes, ask as many questions as possible, and research into the drug on your own, so you can be well informed and prepared to discuss the treatment.

Also, the report calls for consumers to take on an active role when it comes to their medication. Be proactive — learn all you can about the drug you are taking and question everything. Don’t sit back silently while your doctor writes you out a prescription; get involved in the process instead.

While you have a responsibility when it comes to taking your health into your own hands, the report also notes the importance of health care professionals also taking a more proactive stance in preventing these errors as well. Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists also need to act upon and be aware of their patients’ medical rights. Hopefully, in the near future, medical practitioners will take these recommendations to heart — for everybody’s benefit.