New Study Uncovers Alarming Drug Errors Among Hospitalized Kids
While hospital patients can be extremely vulnerable and trusting, no patient is more vulnerable than a child. As we grow up, we are taught that doctors and nurses are competent and trustworthy; that they always have our best interest in mind. Fortunately, most health care professionals perform their jobs to the highest standards, but there are cases where doctors and nurses make needless mistakes. As adults, we may be aware enough to let doctors know if we have received a treatment that is causing adverse reactions or to tell a nurse that someone else has already given us our daily shot. Chances are children do not. It is the responsibility of the adults tending them in the hospitals to make sure they are given the proper amount of medication, at the proper times, and to know how to treat the child if something goes wrong.
New research presented in the April 2008 issue of the journal of Pediatrics has raised serious concerns in the medical community. Researchers have found that approximately one of every 15 children in U.S. hospitals suffers from some type of drug error – from medicine mix-ups to accidental overdoses and negative drug reactions.
The accidental heparin overdose of actor Dennis Quaid’s newborn twins recently received widespread publicity on 60 Minutes. The latest statistics underscore that dangerous medical errors among children are much more common than previously believed.
These drug errors may affect more than 7 percent of all hospitalized children – or roughly 540,000 kids each year.
One of every five of those drug mistakes was preventable, researchers found.
Traditional detection methods, which included nonspecific patient chart reviews and voluntary error reporting, arrived at an estimated drug error rate of 2 children out of every 100. The new detection method put the number at closer to 11 out of 100, indicating that some children experienced more than one drug treatment mistake per hospitalization.
The new monitoring method consisted of a list of 15 “triggers” on young patients’ charts that suggested possible drug-related harm. That screening method was then tested in a study of randomly selected medical charts for 960 children. They were treated at 12 freestanding U.S. children's hospitals in 2002.
More than half of the drug errors that the study uncovered were related to morphine and other powerful painkillers, including overdoses and allergic reactions. One of the triggers on the list involved the symptoms of morphine overdose and its antidote, naloxone.
Other triggers included:
- Use of vitamin K, an antidote for an overdose of the blood thinner Coumadin;
- Use of a blood test that detects insulin overdoses;
- A lab test that identifies blood-clotting problems which can be caused by an overdose of the blood thinner heparin and other drugs.
About 22 percent of the drug errors turned up by the study were considered preventable and most were relatively mild. While none of the drug mistakes was fatal or caused permanent damage, some had the potential to cause serious harm.
Patient safety experts believe the problem of drug errors among hospitalized children to be even larger than the study suggests because it only involved a small review of selected charts. The test did not include general community hospitals, where most U.S. children are treated.
In the wake of the Pediatrics article, some hospitals are now using a trigger method to keep better track of their patients and to cut down on human error. Experts say that’s a good start but are pushing for a more comprehensive testing method along with better reporting by hospital staffs.
If you have any legal question regarding hospital medication errors involving a child or any form of medical malpractice , contact the Florida medical malpractice lawyers at Gordon & Doner, P.A. Our firm believes that our system of justice works best when skilled attorneys who have the resources to fully prepare and try a case represent both sides.
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