Detecting medication errors in the New Zealand pharmacovigilance database: a retrospective analysis

Drug Saf. 2011 Jan 1;34(1):59-71. doi: 10.2165/11539290-000000000-00000.


Background: Despite the traditional focus being adverse drug reactions (ADRs), pharmacovigilance centres have recently been identified as a potentially rich and important source of medication error data.

Objective: To identify medication errors in the New Zealand Pharmacovigilance database (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring [CARM]), and to describe the frequency and characteristics of these events.

Methods: A retrospective analysis of the CARM pharmacovigilance database operated by the New Zealand Pharmacovigilance Centre was undertaken for the year 1 January-31 December 2007. All reports, excluding those relating to vaccines, clinical trials and pharmaceutical company reports, underwent a preventability assessment using predetermined criteria. Those events deemed preventable were subsequently classified to identify the degree of patient harm, type of error, stage of medication use process where the error occurred and origin of the error.

Results: A total of 1412 reports met the inclusion criteria and were reviewed, of which 4.3% (61/1412) were deemed preventable. Not all errors resulted in patient harm: 29.5% (18/61) were 'no harm' errors but 65.5% (40/61) of errors were deemed to have been associated with some degree of patient harm (preventable adverse drug events [ADEs]). For 5.0% (3/61) of events, the degree of patient harm was unable to be determined as the patient outcome was unknown. The majority of preventable ADEs (62.5% [25/40]) occurred in adults aged 65 years and older. The medication classes most involved in preventable ADEs were antibacterials for systemic use and anti-inflammatory agents, with gastrointestinal and respiratory system disorders the most common adverse events reported. For both preventable ADEs and 'no harm' events, most errors were incorrect dose and drug therapy monitoring problems consisting of failures in detection of significant drug interactions, past allergies or lack of necessary clinical monitoring. Preventable events were mostly related to the prescribing and administration stages of the medication use process, with the majority of errors 82.0% (50/61) deemed to have originated in the community setting.

Conclusions: The CARM pharmacovigilance database includes medication errors, many of which were found to originate in the community setting and reported as ADRs. Error-prone situations were able to be identified, providing greater opportunity to improve patient safety. However, to enhance detection of medication errors by pharmacovigilance centres, reports should be prospectively reviewed for preventability and the reporting form revised to facilitate capture of important information that will provide meaningful insight into the nature of the underlying systems defects that caused the error.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems / statistics & numerical data*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Databases, Factual
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug Monitoring / methods
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations