Geriatric patients are exposed to a higher rate of medication errors in hospitals than the overall inpatient population and are much more likely to be harmed as a result, according to a new report summarizing medication mistakes reported by 482 hospitals nationwide in 2002. Of the more than 192,000 errors reported anonymously to a database called Medmarx, half never reached the patient because of safety checks in place. But 35% of the errors that did reach the patient involved patients ages 65 years or older, and the errors caused harm in the geriatric population 3.47% of the time, more than twice the 1.67% overall reported incidence of harm. About one-third of the total reports involved elderly patients, but more than half the deaths caused by medical errors were among senior citizens, according to the report by U.S. Pharmacopeia, Rockville, Md.
The medical-safety advocacy group called on hospitals to focus on reducing medication errors within the elderly population. Among other findings, the report singled out prescribing errors as a significant source of harm. Although they represented only 4% of all errors among geriatric patients, prescribing errors accounted for nearly 10% of mistakes causing harm to seniors. Many of the errors involved high-risk medications, such as insulin, blood thinners and narcotics, that are used widely but can cause serious injury if not correctly ordered, prepared and administered. Errors of omission were by far the most prevalent type of error among geriatric patients, accounting for 43% of all reported errors in that age group. But the overwhelming number of those errors did not result in harm. Overall, omission errors occurred in 25% of reported mistakes and were the fourth leading cause of harm. -- -- by John Morrissey