WHO launches international effort to reduce medication errors

The World Health Organization launched the Global Patient Safety Challenge on Medication Safety — an international effort aimed at reducing harmful medication errors around the globe by 50 percent in the next five years — on Wednesday.

The new initiative aims to address systemic weaknesses in health organizations that contribute to preventable medication errors. While medication errors can occur for multiple reasons, including provider fatigue and miscommunication, the WHO contends most errors stem from systems failures regarding the organization of care.

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For the challenge, the WHO is calling on nations around the world to take action to address the improper use of high-risk medicines, manage patients who take multiple medications for different illnesses and monitor medication administration among patients undergoing care transitions. The WHO plans to provide guidance, strategies and tools to ensure patient safety is at the center of prescribing, dispensing and monitoring patient medications.

"We all expect to be helped, not harmed, when we take medication," said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general. "Apart from the human cost, medication errors place an enormous and unnecessary strain on health budgets. Preventing errors saves money and saves lives."

In the United States, medication errors kill at least one person every day and harm approximately 1.3 million people annually, resulting in an estimated $42 billion in costs, according to the WHO.

The initiative marks the third time the WHO has launched a global patient safety challenge. Previously, the international health organization conducted the Clean Care is Safe Care challenge on hand hygiene in 2005 and the Safe Surgery Saves Lives challenge in 2008.

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