Medication mistakes make up half of the preventable harm in medical care

On World Patient Safety Day, the World Health Organization said that unsafe medication practices and errors are a leading cause of avoidable harm in world health care systems.

The WHO is calling for urgent action to stop the medication errors putting millions at risk of severe harm or even death.

The agency’s quality of care coordinator, Neelam Dhingra-Kumar, noted everyone will, at some point take medicine, expecting to benefit. However, she said they can be harmful with improper use.

“There is ample evidence around the world that unsafe medication practices and medication errors is actually avoidable,” she said. “Such as incorrect prescriptions, wrong dispensing, wrong use of medicines, lack of proper monitoring. Once the physicians prescribe medicines, they are not monitored and even use of substandard and falsified medicines are a leading cause of avoidable harm in health care systems.”

Medications are the most widely utilized interventions in health care, and medication-related harm constitutes the greatest proportion of the total preventable harm due to unsafe care, let alone the economic and psychological burden imposed by such harm.

Acknowledging this substantial burden and recognizing the complexity of medication-related harm prevention and reduction, “Medication Safety” has been selected as the theme for World Patient Safety Day 2022.

The campaign is envisaged to provide the needed impetus to consolidate the efforts of the existing WHO Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm, emphasizing the need to adopt a systems approach and promote safe medication practices to prevent medication errors and reduce medication-related harm.

Special consideration will be given to areas where most harm occurs. The key action areas are high-risk situations, transitions of care, and polypharmacy.

The WHO said half of all preventable harm in medical care is medication-related and that a quarter of these patients suffer clinically severe or life-threatening harm.

It said the elderly are most at risk, especially those taking multiple medications. It said high rates of medication-related harm also occur in surgical care, intensive care, and emergency medicine.

Dhingra-Kumar said the amount of harm related to medication is twice as prevalent in low- and middle-income countries as in rich countries.

“That is primarily because of weak medication systems, lack of resources, lack of human workforce, not a fully trained workforce,” she said. “And even the culture; it is very, very difficult to change cultures as seen as very deeply in the system of blame.”

She said medication errors often are caused by such human factors as fatigue, poor environmental conditions, and staff shortages.

The WHO says medication practices and medication errors are a main cause of injury and avoidable harm in health care systems. It estimates the global cost associated with medication errors at $42 billion a year.

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