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How do hospitals prevent medication errors?

Medication errors in hospitals, unfortunately, are quite common. Your healthcare team and hospital staff take many precautions to minimize medication errors in the hospital. For example:
  • Hospitals are involving pharmacists in the care units. Pharmacists sometimes participate in rounds with your care team. This is a good practice, as it brings their medication expertise to your bedside.
  • Hospitals are using a process called medication reconciliation to help keep track of all the changes in your medications while in in the hospital. The process engages doctors, nurses, pharmacists and patients in comparing a patient's current drug routine to any changes a physician makes when a patient is admitted, moved to another unit, or released from the hospital.
  • Hospitals are working to minimize interruptions and noise that can affect the medication preparation and administration process.
  • Hospitals are building electronic medication administration systems to keep track of what medications you have been prescribed, minimize sloppy handwriting, and more rapidly share information on changes in your medications with all of your providers across the hospital.
  • Hospitals are redesigning medication storage systems within the pharmacy to prevent drugs that look alike or sound alike from being kept near one another. This can lessen the possibility of a busy pharmacist accidentally selecting the wrong medication.
  • Hospitals are encouraging patients and their loved ones to speak up if they have any concerns about the medications they are receiving.
Medication safety improvement is a big priority for hospitals. You and your family can play a role in helping hospitals improve.

One approach hospitals have used to prevent or reduce medication errors is to take a more proactive approach in identifying the factors that increase the likelihood of an error occurring. They do this by analyzing the errors that do occur in terms of how and why they occurred. The focus is not to point blame, but to work to create a culture which minimizes risks and emphasizes safety for both patients and the providers caring for those patients.

Hospitals have also been successful in reducing medication errors by revisiting and redefining what best practices are in terms of error rates. Currently, best practices suggest that hospitals adopt a “six-sigma” approach to error management. Sigma is a statistical measurement that reflects how well a product or process is performing. Higher sigma values indicate better performance. Historically, the health care industry was comfortable striving for three-sigma processes (all data points fall within three standard deviations) in terms of health care quality instead of six. This is one reason why health care was found to have more errors than the banking and airline industries, in which achieving six sigmas is the expectation. Many healthcare organizations now seek to apply six-sigma methodology to every aspect of care.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.