Medication administration errors in adult patients in the ICU

Intensive Care Med. 2001 Oct;27(10):1592-8. doi: 10.1007/s001340101065.


Objective: To quantify the incidence and specify the types of medication administration errors from a list of error-prone medications and to determine if patient harm resulted from these errors.

Design: An observational evaluation.

Setting: Five intensive care units (ICUs) in the United States.

Patients and participants: Eight hundred fifty-one patients who were at least 18 years of age and admitted to surgical, medical or mixed ICUs during a 3 month period were included.

Interventions: None.

Measurements and results: A list of error-prone medications was adapted from the literature and evaluated for medication errors and patient harm. Of 5,744 observations in 851 patients, 187 (3.3%) medication administration errors were detected. the therapeutic classes most commonly associated with errors were vasoactive drugs 61 (32.6%) and sedative/analgesics 48 (25.7%). The most common type of error was wrong infusion rate with 71 (40.1%) errors. Twenty-one errors did not reach the patient and 159 reached the patient but did not result in harm, increased monitoring or intervention. Five errors required increased patient monitoring and two required intervention. None of the errors resulted in patient death.

Conclusions: This multicenter evaluation found fewer medication administration errors than the published literature, possibly due to the varying observational techniques and pharmacist involvement. Lorazepam and wrong infusion rates are associated with errors that occurred frequently, resulted in the greatest potential for harm and were common oversights in the system. These errors should be considered potential areas for betterment in the medication use process to improve patient safety.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems
  • Drug Utilization / standards
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospital Bed Capacity
  • Hospitals, Teaching / standards
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Intensive Care Units / standards*
  • Intensive Care Units / statistics & numerical data
  • Medication Errors / classification
  • Medication Errors / prevention & control
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Management
  • Safety Management
  • Total Quality Management
  • United States / epidemiology