Strategies to reduce medication errors with reference to older adults

Int J Evid Based Healthc. 2006 Mar;4(1):2-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-6988.2006.00029.x.


Background In Australia, around 59% of the general population uses prescription medication with this number increasing to about 86% in those aged 65 and over and 83% of the population over 85 using two or more medications simultaneously. A recent report suggests that between 2% and 3% of all hospital admissions in Australia may be medication related with older Australians at higher risk because of higher levels of medicine intake and increased likelihood of being admitted to hospital. The most common medication errors encountered in hospitals in Australia are prescription/medication ordering errors, dispensing, administration and medication recording errors. Contributing factors to these errors have largely not been reported in the hospital environment. In the community, inappropriate drugs, prescribing errors, administration errors, and inappropriate dose errors are most common. Objectives To present the best available evidence for strategies to prevent or reduce the incidence of medication errors associated with the prescribing, dispensing and administration of medicines in the older persons in the acute, subacute and residential care settings, with specific attention to persons aged 65 years and over. Search strategy Bibliographic databases PubMed, Embase, Current contents, The Cochrane Library and others were searched from 1986 to present along with existing health technology websites. The reference lists of included studies and reviews were searched for any additional literature. Selection criteria Systematic reviews, randomised controlled trials and other research methods such as non-randomised controlled trials, longitudinal studies, cohort or case-control studies, or descriptive studies that evaluate strategies to identify and manage medication incidents. Those people who are involved in the prescribing, dispensing or administering of medication to the older persons (aged 65 years and older) in the acute, subacute or residential care settings were included. Where these studies were limited, evidence available on the general patient population was used. Data collection and analysis Study design and quality were tabulated and relative risks, odds ratios, mean differences and associated 95% confidence intervals were calculated from individual comparative studies containing count data where possible. All other data were presented in a narrative summary. Results Strategies that have some evidence for reducing medication incidents are: • computerised physician ordering entry systems combined with clinical decision support systems; • individual medication supply systems when compared with other dispensing systems such as ward stock approaches; • use of clinical pharmacists in the inpatient setting; • checking of medication orders by two nurses before dispensing medication; • a Medication Administration Review and Safety committee; and • providing bedside glucose monitors and educating nurses on importance of timely insulin administration. In general, the evidence for the effectiveness of intervention strategies to reduce the incidence of medication errors is weak and high-quality controlled trials are needed in all areas of medication prescription and delivery.