Medication errors in anesthetic practice: a survey of 687 practitioners

Can J Anaesth. 2001 Feb;48(2):139-46. doi: 10.1007/BF03019726.


Purpose: The objectives of this study were to determine: 1) if anesthesiologists had experienced a medication error and 2) to identify causal factors. The perceived value of a Canadian reporting agency for medication errors and improved standards for labels on drug ampoules was also investigated.

Methods: A self-reporting survey was mailed to members of the Canadian Anesthesiologists' Society (n = 2,266). Respondents provided free-text descriptions of medication errors and answered fixed response questions.

Results: Surveys from 687 anesthesiologists (30% response rate) revealed that 85% of the participants had experienced at least one drug error or "near miss". Although most errors (1,038) were of minor consequence (98%), four deaths were reported. The commonest error involved the administration of muscle relaxants instead of a reversal agent. "Syringe swaps" (70.4%) and the misidentification of the label (46.8%) were common contributing factors. Anesthesiologists (97.9%) reported that they read the ampoule label "most of the time" although the label colour was an important secondary cue. Approximately half of the participants would report the error if a reporting program existed and 84% agreed that improved standards for drug labels would reduce the incidence of error.

Conclusions: Most anesthesiologists experienced at least one drug error. The commonest error was a "syringe swap" that involved a muscle relaxant. Most errors were of minor consequence, however, serious morbidity and mortality resulted from clearly preventable events. These results support the development of improved standards for drug labels and the establishment of a Canadian reporting program for medication errors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesiology*
  • Anesthetics / adverse effects
  • Canada
  • Data Collection
  • Drug Labeling
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Professional Practice


  • Anesthetics