Assessing medication prescribing errors in pediatric intensive care units

Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2004 Mar;5(2):124-32. doi: 10.1097/01.PCC.0000112371.26138.E8.


Objective: To evaluate a matrix for determining the predominant type, cause category, and rate of medication prescribing errors, and to explore the effectiveness of hospital-based improvement initiatives among pediatric intensive care units (PICUs).

Design: This study involved the prospective identification of medication errors for categorization and evaluation by using a matrix methodology. A pretest-posttest design without a control group was used to explore the impact of initiatives employed to reduce medication error rates and severity.

Setting: PICUs in nine freestanding, collaborating tertiary care children's hospitals that participated in both baseline and postintervention analyses.

Methods: We evaluated 12,026 PICU medication orders at baseline and 9,187 orders postintervention for prescribing errors, excluding resuscitation orders. A standardized tool and process captured error type, cause category, and severity for 2 wks before and after intervention. Three levels of error detection were used and included pharmacy order entry, PICU nurse order transcription, and team-based overview. Site-specific interventions were implemented, which included predominantly provider education as well as informational (47%) and dosing "assists" via preprinted orders, forcing functions, or prompts (39%).

Results: Of baseline orders, 11.1% had at least one prescribing error. The interception of prescribing errors improved 30.9% (1.6% of all orders at baseline, 2.0% post intervention). Preventable adverse drug events were uncommon (0.6% of all medication errors) and of low severity at baseline; most were wrong dose errors. The implementation of improvement initiatives, specific for each facility, resulted in a 31.6% reduction in prescribing errors from 11.1% to 7.6%. However, site results varied considerably.

Conclusions: A benchmark for medication prescribing errors in the PICU was identified among nine children's hospitals. The methodology was successful in accounting for site-specific differences with regard to identifying and documenting errors as well as reporting results of improvement initiatives. Furthermore, the methodology employed was generalizable in the identification of predominant prescribing error types, which helped to track individual hospital improvement initiative development and implementation. Overall improvement in prescribing error rates was noted; however, considerable variation in the success of improvement initiatives was noted and bears further attention.

MeSH terms

  • Drug Therapy, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units, Pediatric / statistics & numerical data*
  • Medication Errors / classification*
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Medication Systems, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Nurses
  • Pharmacy Service, Hospital
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / methods*