Panel: Medication Errors Hazardous to Your Health

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At least 1.5 million Americans are injured or killed every year by medication errors at a direct cost of billions of dollars, according to a report issued Thursday by the prestigious Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

For hospitalized patients, the report said that on average, one medication error per day was caused by confusion in drug names, wrong doses, failure to deliver drugs or a host of other problems.

The study is a follow-up to a 1999 report from the institute, which is part of the National Academies, that outlined all medical errors and claimed that as many as 98,000 people were killed each year as a result of medical errors “” 7,000 of them as a result of medication errors.

“We were initially quite surprised by the number of mistakes, but the more we heard, the more convinced we were that these are actually serious underestimates,” said panel member Dr. Kevin Johnson of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The study lays out a detailed series of recommendations for new procedures and research to minimize the risk of future medication errors, emphasizing computerization of prescribing and administering drugs and data acquisition.

Betsy Lehman, a health reporter for the Boston Globe, was one patient who was killed as a result of such errors, according to the report. The 39-year-old wife and mother of two was being treated for breast cancer in an experimental program at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 1994. A medical fellow wrote a prescription for the cancer drugs, citing the total amount she was to receive over four days, the report said. Lehman died when nurses administered that total each day, overwhelming her system.

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