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Drug errors 'common in nursing homes but rarely serious'

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Medication errors remain fairly common in nursing homes but they appear to result in “surprisingly” low rates of serious impacts affecting residents, according to Australian researchers.

They called on homes to review their prescribing to administration systems, noting that good practice required teamwork from residents, nursing staff, pharmacists and doctors.

The researchers set out to assess the prevalence of medication errors leading to hospital admission and deaths in nursing home residents, and to determine the factors associated with these errors.

They conducted a search of studies published between 2000 and 2015, identifying 11 relevant pieces of research. They examined three types of errors – all medication errors, transfer-related medication errors, and potentially inappropriate medications.

The researchers found that medication errors were common, involving 16% to 27% of residents in studies examining all types of medication errors.

Transfer-related medication errors occurred in 13% to 31% of residents, while 75% of residents were prescribed at least one potentially inappropriate medication.

But the team found that serious impacts of medication errors were surprisingly low and they were reported in only zero to 1% of medication errors, with death being a rare event.

However, the investigators noted that it was unclear whether medication errors resulting in serious outcomes were truly infrequent or are under-reported due to the difficulty in ascertaining them.

“This is an important step to addressing the global issue for improving the quality and safety of medications for older people,” said study author Professor Joseph Ibrahim, from Monash University.

“Nursing homes should review their systems of care from prescribing to administration,” he said in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

“Good practice requires using a team-based approach involving the resident, care and nursing staff, pharmacists, and medical practitioners,” he added.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Pussy

    Rarely serious! Phew! That's a relief.

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  • As leader in a care home I have worked hard with MDT Staff and residents to improve medication administration and can say that we have had 2 minor errors in the last 12 months. I agree that there has to be a good working relationship with GP and Pharmacy

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