Study objective: We identify the incidence, nature, and consequences of medication errors among acutely ill and injured children receiving care in a sample of rural emergency departments (EDs).
Methods: Two pediatric pharmacists applied a medication error data collection instrument to the medical records of all critically ill children (highest triage category) treated in 4 northern California rural EDs between January 2000 and June 2003. Physician-related medication errors were defined as those involving wrong dose, wrong or inappropriate medication for condition, wrong route, or wrong dosage form. Wrong dose was determined by preset criteria, with doses above or below 10% to 25% of correct dose considered errors, depending on class of medication. Medication errors were classified into categories A through I under 3 broader categories, including errors having the potential to cause harm (A), errors that cause no harm (B to D), and errors that cause harm to the patient (E to I).
Results: Complete data were available from 177 (97.3%) of the 182 patients identified as having been triaged in the highest category during the study period. A total of 84 medication errors were identified among 69 patients, resulting in a medication error incidence of 39.0%. Twenty-four physician-related medication errors were identified among 21 patients, resulting in a physician-related medication error incidence of 11.9%. Among the 69 patients with medication errors, 11 had errors categorized as having the potential to cause harm (15.9%), and 58 had errors categorized as causing no harm (85.5%).
Conclusion: We found a high incidence of medication errors and physician-related medication errors among the acutely ill and injured children presenting to rural EDs in northern California. None of the medication errors identified caused harm to the patients included in this study.