The global impact of errors in medication

One of the main commitments of healthcare services is to cause no harm to every patient. Nevertheless, data shows that is not the case. Every year, 134 million people all around the world suffer harm as a consequence of the lack of safety in the healthcare environment, which provokes, according to the World Health Organization 2.6 million deaths annualy. Hospitals are not the only focus of errors in the provision of healthcare services. Presently, 4 in 10 patients of the Hospital and ambulatory services are exposed to some harm, while 80% of those cases are preventable.

According to WHO, the most harmful errors derive from the diagnosis, the prescription and the erroneous usage of medication. In the United States alone, errors in medication provokes daily deaths and harm to more than 1.3 million people yearly. In Spain, it adds up to 8,000 patients that die every year due to errors related to medication according to that same study.

As loss of lives by itself is an appalling matter, the economic impact of those errors in the healthcare sector is not less significant. It is estimated that in the USA alone errors in medication represent a cost of € 38 billion, equivalent to almost 1% of the world’s healthcare spending. In Spain the cost resulting from errors in the preparation and administration of medication within the National Healthcare System (SNS from its Spanish trade name) is of more than € 1.7 billion yearly, adding to almost 3% of the healthcare expenditures in Spain, according to data from the Health Secretariat.

Bearing this situation in mind, the WHO has come forward in its recommendations that countries should grow their investments directed to enhance patient safety, as the human and material costs deriving from prevention will always be lower than the ones resulting from treatments needed once harm is identified.

Traceabilty, key to bring errors down

One of the most common requests from staff of hospital pharmacies is the incorporation of traceability systems controlling the whole chain of events that lead to administration of medication, what would lead to a significant reduction of the numbers of errors within that environment. For that to take place it is mandatory to install technological solutions that provide automation of the processes in order to bring human errors to zero.

A good example of this type of initiatives comes from the Hospital de Fuenlabrada that as presented on a conference of the Spanish Hospital Pharmacy Society (SEFH from its Spanish trade name) has installed in 2016 a informatic solution that provides a better quality control and efficiency in the preparation of individual chemotherapy treatments to be administered to oncology patients. Through the usage of a software, the pharmacist receives all of the instructions for the preparation of the treatments, which is halted in case an error has occurred. This innovative system guarantees a proper dosage of all different components to be administered to the patients and brings down to zero the human errors in the process.

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