Magazine article Drug Topics

Many Drug Errors Can Be Prevented

Magazine article Drug Topics

Many Drug Errors Can Be Prevented

Article excerpt

Medication safety has always been an important issue, but the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) recent report showing that preventable medication errors injure at least 1.5 million Americans annually illustrates the seriousness of this predicament. The authors of the IOM report, Preventing Medication Errors: The Quality Chasm Series, even acknowledge that this is likely a conservative assessment of drug safety gaps. The report noted that each year 530,000 preventable adverse drug events-injuries due to medication-affect outpatient Medicare patients, 380,000 to 450,000 occur in hospitals, and another 800,000 in long-term care facilities.

The problem of medication errors stems from our fragmented healthcare system. Drugs are becoming increasingly complex, placing a premium on whether patients are getting the right drug, at the right dose, and at the right time. And with prescription medication utilization on the rise, and as patients see multiple doctors for a variety of conditions, the likelihood of adverse drug reactions will continue to grow.

While the report is cause for concern, not all of the news is bad. Many of lOM's recommendations are currently used by some managed care organizations and PBMs and merely need broader adoption to reduce the rate of medication errors.

Highlighted in the IOM report is the need for patients, physicians, and pharmacists to communicate better. Some of the recommendations are as basic as patients providing their physicians with lists of the medications, vitamins, and supplements they're using, while others call for technological solutions, such as the adoption of eprescribing by 2010. E-prescribing would reduce potentially harmful drug interactions by alerting physicians of possible risks and eliminating illegible handwritten Rxs that can lead to mistakes. From a practice standpoint, this technology could curtail the 150 million calls that R.Ph.s make to doctors annually to clarify Rx information.

While the adoption of e-prescribing has been slow to take hold, there are encouraging signs. In February 2005, three of the nation's largest automakers along with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Health Alliance Plan/ Henry Ford Medical Group, and Medco Health Solutions launched the Southeast Michigan e-Prescribing Initiative, an e-prescribing pilot program that recently hit a milestone of one million Rxs submitted using e-prescribing technology. Approximately 98,000 of those were changed or canceled due to drug interaction alerts received through e-prescribing, thus demonstrating the important impact this technology can have on preventing errors. …

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