Medication errors occur frequently in nursing homes, study finds

While medication errors are still a frequent occurrence in nursing homes, their impact on the actual health of patients is limited, suggests new study findings published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. However, it is unclear if the low rates of medication errors linked to adverse events and death are accurate or due to potential underreporting.

To assess the prevalence of medication errors resulting in hospitalization, serious patient harm and death, researchers conducted a comprehensive review of 11 relevant studies published between 2000 and 2015. Through the studies, researchers evaluated data on three types of medication errors: all errors, errors related to patient transfers and errors regarding the administration of potentially inappropriate medications.

Analysis revealed medication errors to be a common occurrence. In studies assessing for all types of medication errors, 16 percent to 27 percent of residents experienced such an incident; studies investigating transfer-associated medication errors reported occurrence rates of 13 percent to 31 percent among residents; studies looking into the number of residents prescribed at least one potentially inappropriate medication revealed 75 percent of residents experienced such an error. However, overall, severe complications related to these events occurred at a rate between 0 and 1 percent. Death resulting from a medication error was found to be extremely rare.

The study's results did not reveal whether adverse events related to medication errors were truly infrequent, or the result of underreporting due to difficulties establishing concrete links between the errors and adverse outcomes.

"This is an important step to addressing the global issue for improving the quality and safety of medications for older people," said one of the study's authors, Joseph Ibrahim, PhD, an academic physician in geriatric medicine at Monash University in Australia. "Nursing homes should review their systems of care from prescribing to administration. Good practice requires using a team-based approach involving the resident, care and nursing staff, pharmacists and medical practitioners."

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