Dangerous drug errors, a fairly common occurrence at hospitals, are largely due to physicians' ignorance of the products or nurses' incorrect administration, two new reports conclude.
About 6.5 "adverse drug events" accompanied every 100 non-obstetric admissions at two Boston teaching hospitals during a six-month period. In addition, nurses or other providers averted 5.5 potential adverse events per 100 admissions.
At that rate, adverse drug events cost a 700-bed hospital about $3.8 million annually, researchers estimated.
Just 1% of the errors were fatal, and none of those was preventable, the researchers said. But they categorized 12% as life-threatening, 30% as serious and 57% as significant. And, the researchers said, nearly one-third of those errors could have been avoided.
Those figures come from an analysis of 11 medical and surgical units at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston then sought the cause of the hospitals' errors. Results of both studies were published in the July 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The federal Agency for Health Care Policy and Research and the Risk Management Association provided funding.
Physicians generally erred in prescribing drugs because they didn't know enough about the products, such as their potential interactions with other medications. If nurses made mistakes, they often occurred when the drugs were administered. For example, two typical errors were mixing drugs in incompatible solutions or infusing intravenous drugs too rapidly.
Computerizing drug and patient information could help guard against drug errors, the researchers said.
"Physicians, nurses and pharmacists need to have a great deal of information about drugs, including mechanism of action, side effects, dosing options and interactions, to be able to use them wisely and safely," they said.