Medication Mistakes: Who’s at Fault?

The use of medical storage carts is more prevalent in healthcare facilities and for good reason. These workstations on wheels, enable healthcare staff to provide superior care to their patient at the point of care and can decrease the amount of dangerous and costly medication errors.

What is a Medication Error?

The American Journal of Nursing defines a medication error as the preventable inappropriate use of medications. An error can happen when dispensing, repackaging, prescribing, administering, or monitoring of medication.

Medication errors are a common, global problem. Patient safety and treatment related costs are significantly affected. Some studies suggest that medication errors prolong hospital stays by two days and increase costs by $2,000-2,500 per patient.

Why Do They Happen?

Some of the most common causes for medication errors are preventable. Poor communication, inadequate procedures or techniques, discrepancies or ambiguities in directions for use, distraction, job stress, abbreviations or bad handwriting or simply misunderstanding how to use the medications are all things that can be prevented.

Healthcare providers need to remember when administering any medication to verify they are giving the correct drug, via the proper route, the accurate dose, at the precise time for the right reason.

It’s also vital to verify the patient doesn’t have any history of allergies or interactions to the medication before administration.

Types of Medication Errors

The most common types of errors are monitoring errors, wrong time given, omission, unauthorized drug, improper dose, wrong route of administration, giving the drug to the wrong patient. Compliance errors are also on the list, when protocol for medication dispensing and prescribing isn’t followed.

Unfortunately, the most common time for an error to occur is when the physician initially prescribes the medication. In fact, a recent article reported that about 50% of the time an error occurs is during the first step of the process.


In our current culture of accountability, people are searching for someone to blame as soon a mistake happens. The culture in healthcare is beginning to shift, in an attempt to make it easier to report a medication error. This should decrease the odds the medication error occurring again, and ideally; it will improve patient outcomes.

The truth is that system failures account for the majority of medication errors. Therefore, a systemic approach to the problem is essential, and it’s an ethical duty to report errors to maximize the benefits of patient care.

Advances in Technology

Advances in Technology

Making mistakes is human nature. Fortunately, technology such as medical storage carts on wheels is making it harder than ever to make a mistake. For example, the bar code scanning ability of some medical computer carts on wheels drastically reduces the chance of administering the wrong medication to the wrong patient.

Electronic health records, automated drug dispensing, computerized provider order entry (CPOE), unit dosing, and electronic prescribing are important health information technologies can also reduce errors.

CPOE requires medication orders to be entered into the computer, solving the issue of illegible hand writing on prescriptions.


Policies and procedures are instituted in every facility in an attempt to ensure that critical mistakes aren’t made. One of the easiest ways to prevent medication errors is by following the rules.

Researchers are working to address these issues. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) supported over one hundred patient safety projects and has spent over $50 million on the projects. They also reported the availability of $41 million in grants to improve patient safety and quality of care through the use of health information technology.

Excellent communication between providers and a system of checks and balances is critical in every facility in order to catch the mistakes of others before a medication error occurs. In fact, nursing staff catch most errors before they even reach the patient.

Widespread systemic changes need to be made to ensure that patients receive the best care possible with the best possible long term outcomes.

Call Now Button