National study on the frequency, types, causes, and consequences of voluntarily reported emergency department medication errors

J Emerg Med. 2011 May;40(5):485-92. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2008.02.059. Epub 2008 Sep 26.


Background: Medication errors contribute to significant morbidity, mortality, and costs to the health system. Little is known about the characteristics of Emergency Department (ED) medication errors.

Study objective: To examine the frequency, types, causes, and consequences of voluntarily reported ED medication errors in the United States.

Methods: A cross-sectional study of all ED errors reported to the MEDMARX system between 2000 and 2004. MEDMARX is an anonymous, confidential, de-identified, Internet-accessible medication error-reporting program designed to allow hospitals to report, track, and share error data in a standardized format.

Results: There were 13,932 medication errors from 496 EDs analyzed. The error rate was 78 reports per 100,000 visits. Physicians were responsible for 24% of errors, nurses for 54%. Errors most commonly occurred in the administration phase (36%). The most common type of error was improper dose/quantity (18%). Leading causes were not following procedure/protocol (17%), and poor communication (11%), whereas contributing factors were distractions (7.5%), emergency situations (4.1%), and workload increase (3.4%). Computerized provider order entry caused 2.5% of errors. Harm resulted in 3% of errors. Actions taken as a result of the error included informing the staff member who committed the error (26%), enhancing communication (26%), and providing additional training (12%). Patients or family members were notified about medication errors 2.7% of the time.

Conclusion: ED medication errors may be a result of the acute, crowded, and fast-paced nature of care. Further research is needed to identify interventions to reduce these risks and evaluate the effectiveness of these interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Nurses / statistics & numerical data
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology