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Report says medication mistakes common

1.5 million Americans injured every year

Associated Press

The Gazette

July 21, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Associated Press and The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Medication mistakes injure well over 1.5 million Americans every year, a toll too often unrecognized and unfought, says a sobering call to action.

    At least a quarter of the errors are preventable, the Institute of Medicine said Thursday in urging major steps by the government, health providers and patients alike.

    Topping the list: All prescriptions should be written electronically by 2010, a move one specialist called as crucial to safe care as X-ray machines.

    Perhaps the report’s most stunning finding was that, on average, a hospitalized patient is subject to at least one medication error per day.

    A serious drug error can add more than $8,750 to the hospital bill of a single patient.

    Assuming that hospitals commit 400,000 preventable drug errors each year, that’s $3.5 billion — not counting lost productivity and other costs — from hospitals alone, the report concluded.

    ‘‘I’m a patient-safety researcher (yet) I was surprised and shocked at just how common and how serious a problem this is,’’ said Dr. Albert Wu of Johns Hopkins University, who co-authored Thursday’s report.

    Worse, there’s too little incentive for health providers to invest in technology that could prevent some errors today, added Dr. J. Lyle Bootman, the University of Arizona’s pharmacy dean, who co-chaired the IOM probe.

    ‘‘We’re paid whether these errors occur or not,’’ lamented Bootman.

    Among the report’s recommendations:

    The government should speed electronic prescribing, including fostering technology improvements so that the myriad computer programs used by doctors, hospitals and drugstores are compatible.

    Patients and their families must be aggressive in questioning doctors, nurses and pharmacists about medications.

    The nation should invest about $100 million annually on research into drug errors and how to prevent them.

    The Food and Drug Administration should improve the quality of drug information leaflets that accompany prescription drugs.

    The government should establish national telephone hot lines to help patients unable to understand printed drug information because of illiteracy, language barriers or other problems.