Clarification of terminology in medication errors: definitions and classification

Drug Saf. 2006;29(11):1011-22. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200629110-00001.


We have previously described and analysed some terms that are used in drug safety and have proposed definitions. Here we discuss and define terms that are used in the field of medication errors, particularly terms that are sometimes misunderstood or misused. We also discuss the classification of medication errors. A medication error is a failure in the treatment process that leads to, or has the potential to lead to, harm to the patient. Errors can be classified according to whether they are mistakes, slips, or lapses. Mistakes are errors in the planning of an action. They can be knowledge based or rule based. Slips and lapses are errors in carrying out an action - a slip through an erroneous performance and a lapse through an erroneous memory. Classification of medication errors is important because the probabilities of errors of different classes are different, as are the potential remedies.

MeSH terms

  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical
  • Humans
  • Medication Errors / classification*
  • Safety
  • Terminology as Topic*