From Poor Penmanship to Bad Communication: Many Opportunities for Medication Mishaps

ByABC News
July 20, 2006, 11:18 AM

July 20, 2006— -- A doctor's poor penmanship may soon be a thing of the past. Today in a report on medication errors, the prestigious Institute of Medicine called on physicians to electronically prescribe drugs by the year 2010.

While illegible prescriptions are one contributing factor to the 1.5 million people harmed each year by medication errors, they are not the only culprit.

The report identified patients, pharmacists, drug manufacturers, hospitals, nursing homes and doctors as contributors to the costly problem. The extra medical expense because of errors that occur in hospitals alone add up to at least $3.5 billion a year, the report said.

With approximately four out of five adults in the United States taking at least one medication a week, there is a lot of room for medication mishaps.

Some of the most common problems are dosage, allergy and drug interaction errors. While some mistakes result in injury and death, most do not.

Dr. Neil Brooks, a family doctor in Vernon, Conn., recalled a patient who was accidentally given a sleeping pill instead of the laxative he had prescribed. The mistake occurred because the drug names doxidan and doriden were similar, he said. The patient continued to be constipated but was happy to get a restful night's sleep, he added.

However, it's important to stop all medication errors, even those that do not cause injury or death, because "they can all become serious," said Charles Inlander, one of the authors of the report, and president of the People's Medical Society, a consumer health advocacy group.

To this end, the report recommends that patients be informed and suggests it is a patient's right to know of all medication errors regardless of harm to patients.

"These are errors that can be fixed," said Inlander. There should be "zero tolerance" for medication mishaps, he added.

Everyone from doctors and patients to pharmacists and drug companies are part of the solutions the report recommends.

Keeping an updated medication list, double-checking the name of the drug dispensed at the pharmacy and asking more questions of doctors and pharmacists are just three of the many things patients can do to minimize their risk of a medication error.