Characteristics of Reported Pediatric Medication Errors in Northern Ireland and Use in Quality Improvement

Paediatr Drugs. 2020 Oct;22(5):551-560. doi: 10.1007/s40272-020-00407-1.


Background: To protect children from harm, clinicians, educators, and patient safety champions need information to direct improvement efforts. Critical incident data could provide this but are often disregarded as a source of evidence because under-reporting makes them an inaccurate measure of error rates.

Objective: Our aim was to identify key targets for pediatric healthcare quality improvement. The objective was to evaluate the types, characteristics, and areas of risk within reported medication errors in pediatric patients.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective study of a large regional dataset of 1522 pediatric medication errors reported from secondary care between 2011 and 2015, including all hospitals and community pediatric settings in Northern Ireland. The following characteristics were included: error severity, patient age, drug involved, error type, and area of practice. Two academic pediatricians, a senior medicines governance pharmacist, a Reader in Pharmacy Practice, and a Professor of Medical Education analyzed the data. Validity checks included comparing the findings against key published literature and discussion by a practitioner panel representing five multidisciplinary stakeholder groups.

Results: Neonates, particularly in intensive care, were implicated in 19% of all errors. The medications most represented in risk were antimicrobials, paracetamol, vaccines, and intravenous fluids. The error types most implicated were dosing errors (32%) and omissions (21%).

Conclusions: Incident reports identified neonates, a shortlist of drugs, and specific error types, associated with modifiable behaviors, as priority improvement targets. These findings direct further study and inform intervention development, such as specific training in calculations to prevent dosing errors. Involving experienced practitioners both endorsed the findings and engaged the practice community in their future implementation. The utility of incident reports to direct improvement efforts may offset the limitations in their representativeness.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Medication Errors / prevention & control
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • National Health Programs
  • Northern Ireland
  • Patient Safety
  • Quality Improvement*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk