Introduction: Children admitted to paediatric and neonatal intensive care units may be at high risk from medication errors and preventable adverse drug events.
Objective: The objective of this systematic review was to review empirical studies examining the prevalence and nature of medication errors and preventable adverse drug events in paediatric and neonatal intensive care units.
Data sources: Seven electronic databases were searched between January 2000 and March 2019.
Study selection: Quantitative studies that examined medication errors/preventable adverse drug events using direct observation, medication chart review, or a mixture of methods in children ≤ 18 years of age admitted to paediatric or neonatal intensive care units were included.
Data extraction: Data on study design, detection method used, rates and types of medication errors/preventable adverse drug events, and medication classes involved were extracted.
Results: Thirty-five unique studies were identified for inclusion. In paediatric intensive care units, the median rate of medication errors was 14.6 per 100 medication orders (interquartile range 5.7-48.8%, n = 3) and between 6.4 and 9.1 per 1000 patient-days (n = 2). In neonatal intensive care units, medication error rates ranged from 4 to 35.1 per 1000 patient-days (n = 2) and from 5.5 to 77.9 per 100 medication orders (n = 2). In both settings, prescribing and medication administration errors were found to be the most common medication errors, with dosing errors the most frequently reported error subtype. Preventable adverse drug event rates were reported in three paediatric intensive care unit studies as 2.3 per 100 patients (n = 1) and 21-29 per 1000 patient-days (n = 2). In neonatal intensive care units, preventable adverse drug event rates from three studies were 0.86 per 1000 doses (n = 1) and 0.47-14.38 per 1000 patient-days (n = 2). Anti-infective agents were commonly involved with medication errors/preventable adverse drug events in both settings.
Conclusions: Medication errors occur frequently in critically ill children admitted to paediatric and neonatal intensive care units and may lead to patient harm. Important targets such as dosing errors and anti-infective medications were identified to guide the development of remedial interventions.