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Reducing medication errors

North Carolina residents may feel reassured to know that many hospital emergency rooms around the country are making changes to reduce the frequency of medication errors. Risk-laden prescription conflicts and medication errors account for more than 7,000 lives in America every year. At the emergency room of a Dallas children's hospital, pharmacists oversee 20,000 medication orders and prescriptions on a weekly basis.

The chief quality officer of the Dallas hospital says that implementing 10 full-time pharmacists into the department has created a valuable safety net for its staff. This location currently has the most emergency pharmacists of any emergency room in the United States and these professionals remain on call 24 hours each day. At this hospital, all prescriptions are reviewed by an emergency department pharmacist before they are dispensed or administered to patients.

According to the Federal Drug Administration, medication errors are often caused by a confusion over metric or dosing units, poor handwriting, substandard packaging or confusing drugs that share similar names. In the emergency room, time is a commodity that is rarely available. Realistically, physicians don't always have the time or opportunity to catch mistakes as they move from one task to another, and they rely on pharmacists to catch these mistakes, correct them and confer about it later on. Some hospitals now have a digital medical record system that reduces errors by spell checking each order that comes through.

Statistics indicate that medication errors with children patients are three times more likely to occur than with adults. Children's bodies are much more sensitive to prescriptions, so many physicians and pharmacists are more successful when they adopt a hand-tailored approach, as opposed to one-size fits all, which can help avoid possible medical malpractice.

Source: WBUR, "Hospitals Put Pharmacists In The ER To Cut Medication Errors", Lauren Silverman, June 09, 2014

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