Reducing the risk of medication errors: Announcing the Penn Center for Patient Safety Research and Practice

(Philadelphia, PA) The University of Pennsylvania Medical Center has assembled a multidisciplinary team of physicians and researchers to form the Center of Excellence for Patient Safety Research and Practice. A $7 million grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) will fund the center through its first five years of operation. The centers mission will be to examine medication errors and address practical ways to prevent their often-fatal effects.

"Sadly, medication errors are among the most common and potentially preventable types of medical errors," said Brian L. Strom, MD, MPH, director of the new center and chair of the Penn Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology. "They account for more deaths each year than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, or HIV infection at an annual cost of $17 to $29 billion."

Of course, much is already known about medication errors. The elderly are most often at risk for such complications. Anticonvulsants are among the high-risk drugs. So are digoxin (also known as Lanoxin), used to treat congestive heart failure, and anticoagulants, such as warfarin (also known as Coumadin). The most common effects of medication errors are internal bleeding and kidney failure.

There are many causes of medication errors, and they can occur anywhere in the medication use process, including diagnosis, prescribing, dispensing, administering, ingesting, and monitoring. Among healthcare professionals, factors such as work stress, distractions, interruptions, inadequate training, fragmented information, or information overload may increase the risk of committing errors in the handling and monitoring of drugs.

Moreover, medication errors are also a societal issue. Patients often cannot or do not adhere to prescribed drug regimens, an error that accounts for almost a quarter of all hospital admissions attributed to drugs. Poor adherence can take the form of overuse, under-use, or erratic use of the dr

Contact: Greg Lester
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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