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Drug errors rarely disclosed to hospital patients

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Jan. 28, 2013

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Whether inside or outside the intensive care unit, patients and families usually are not told about medication mistakes made in care, according to a study published online Dec. 20, 2012, in Critical Care Medicine.

A review of a nationwide voluntary reporting database of 839,553 errors at 537 hospitals found that patients were informed about drug mix-ups in the ICU only 1.5% of the time. In other hospital units, the drug error disclosure rate was 2.1%, said the study (link).

That lack of disclosure could be due to the fact that the vast majority of drug mistakes do not cause harm to the patient, the study’s authors said. In the ICU, just 3.7% of drug errors hurt patients, while other hospital medication mix-ups caused harm only 1.9% of the time.

Physicians and medical ethicist experts are divided about whether disclosing harmless mistakes would be helpful to patients and families. The study said mix-ups most often happen when the drugs are administered to patients, and it added that safeguards may be needed to protect patients.

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