Medication incidents in primary care medicine: a prospective study in the Swiss Sentinel Surveillance Network (Sentinella)

BMJ Open. 2017 Jul 26;7(7):e013658. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-013658.


Objectives: To describe the type, frequency, seasonal and regional distribution of medication incidents in primary care in Switzerland and to elucidate possible risk factors for medication incidents.

Design: Prospective surveillance study.

Setting: Swiss primary healthcare, Swiss Sentinel Surveillance Network.

Participants: Patients with drug treatment who experienced any erroneous event related to the medication process and interfering with normal treatment course, as judged by their physician. The 180 physicians in the study were general practitioners or paediatricians participating in the Swiss Federal Sentinel reporting system in 2015.

Outcomes: Primary: medication incidents; secondary: potential risk factors like age, gender, polymedication, morbidity, care-dependency, previous hospitalisation.

Results: The mean rates of detected medication incidents were 2.07 per general practitioner per year (46.5 per 1 00 000 contacts) and 0.15 per paediatrician per year (2.8 per 1 00 000 contacts), respectively. The following factors were associated with medication incidents (OR, 95% CI): higher age 1.004 per year (1.001; 1.006), care by community nurse 1.458 (1.025; 2.073) and care by an institution 1.802 (1.399; 2.323), chronic conditions 1.052 (1.029; 1.075) per condition, medications 1.052 (1.030; 1.074) per medication, as well as Thurgau Morbidity Index for stage 4: 1.292 (1.004; 1.662), stage 5: 1.420 (1.078; 1.868) and stage 6: 1.680 (1.178; 2.396), respectively. Most cases were linked to an incorrect dosage for a given patient, while prescription of an erroneous medication was the second most common error.

Conclusions: Medication incidents are common in adult primary care, whereas they rarely occur in paediatrics. Older and multimorbid patients are at a particularly high risk for medication incidents. Reasons for medication incidents are diverse but often seem to be linked to communication problems.

Keywords: medication errors.; patient safety; pharmaceutical preparations.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sentinel Surveillance*
  • Switzerland / epidemiology