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Admitted to the oncology service for chemotherapy treatment, a woman with leukemia was noted to be neutropenic on hospital day 6. She had some abdominal discomfort and had not had a bowel movement for 2 days. The overnight physician ordered a suppository without realizing that the patient was neutropenic and immunosuppressed. Unaware that suppositories are contraindicated in neutropenic patients, the nurse administered the suppository.
While attempting to order a CT scan with only oral contrast for a patient with poor kidney function, an intern ordering a CT for the first time selected "with contrast" from the list, not realizing that meant both oral and intravenous contrast. The patient developed contrast nephropathy.
Staggers N, Clark L, Blaz JW, et al. Health Informatics J. 2011;17:209-23.
By enhancing providers' ability to transmit information in a concise and standardized fashion, electronic medical records (EMR) offer great promise for improving handoffs and signouts. However, this analysis of nursing handoffs at an institution with a commercial EMR found that the built-in patient summaries provided inadequate detail and flexibility for clinical signout purposes, forcing nurses to develop workarounds for transmitting key information. This finding reveals the importance of human factors engineering in designing information technology solutions for patient safety problems.
Lee JY, Leblanc K, Fernandes OA, et al. Ann Pharmacother. 2010;44:1887-95.
This study found that 62% of patients transferred between units during a hospitalization had at least one unintentional medication discrepancy. The most common discrepancy was medication omission, independent of which system was used (e.g., paper versus computerized).
Barber ND, Alldred DP, Raynor DK, et al. Qual Saf Health Care. 2009;18:341-346.
This study found a remarkably high incidence of medication errors—nearly two errors per patient—in skilled nursing facilities. Interviews with staff revealed several underlying factors: polypharmacy, overworked staff, poor communication between nursing home staff and physicians, lack of a culture of safety, and lack of reliable systems for medication ordering and administration. Recognition of the high potential for medication errors in nursing facilities has led to the development of toolkits for improving medication safety. A serious medication administration error at a nursing facility is discussed in this AHRQ WebM&M case commentary.
A powerful anti-clotting medication is ordered for a patient admitted for coronary intervention. Due to a forcing function in the computer order entry system, the intern enters an arbitrary maintenance infusion rate, assuming that the pharmacy will fix it if it is wrong. The pharmacy dispenses it as written, and the nurse administers it—underdosing the patient by a factor of 40.
A pregnant woman with asthma was admitted to the hospital with respiratory distress. Although the emergency department providers noted that she was pregnant, this information was not conveyed to the floor. On admission, the patient was given an antibiotic that could have been dangerous.
Sentinel Event Alert. 2008;41:1-4.
Anticoagulant therapies such as heparin and warfarin are considered high-alert medications, due to the high potential for patient harm if used improperly. They have been associated with adverse events in a variety of settings, including in hospitalized patients and outpatients, and ensuring the safety of patients receiving anticoagulants is a National Patient Safety Goal for 2008. This sentinel event alert issued by the Joint Commission discusses the root causes of anticoagulant-associated patient harm and recommends strategies for reducing errors, including implementation of a pharmacist-led anticoagulation service. Sentinel event alerts are intended to promote rapid implementation of patient safety strategies, and adherence to these recommendations is assessed on site visits by the Joint Commission. Note: This alert has been retired effective October 2019. Please refer to the full-text link below for further information.
Bails D, Clayton K, Roy K, et al. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2008;34:499-508.
Medication reconciliation—the process of cross-checking patients' medication lists to correct errors and inadvertent omissions—was named a National Patient Safety Goal in 2005. Despite this, no consensus exists yet as to the best method of accomplishing medication reconciliation. This description of the process of implementing medication reconciliation at an urban public hospital includes much information that will be helpful for hospitals undertaking a similar process. The authors detail the barriers faced in developing the system (which was incorporated into an existing computerized order entry system), encouraging use of the system, and improving it based on user feedback. Prior research in this area has demonstrated the effectiveness of pharmacists at carrying out medication reconciliation.
Cohen MR.
This monthly commentary examines risks associated with mismanagement of IV tubing and ports, discusses a recent article regarding unintended consequences of computerized provider order entry (CPOE), and details recent changes to similarly named medications.
Poon EG, Blumenfeld B, Hamann C, et al. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. 2006;13.
Prior studies have documented that medication errors frequently occur at times of transitions in care such as hospital admission and discharge. Hospitals are now required to have a system for medication reconciliation as a means of averting such errors. This article describes the development, pilot testing, and implementation of a medication reconciliation application within the electronic medical record (EMR) of an integrated health care network. At the time of hospital admission, the system integrates data from the outpatient and inpatient EMR to formulate an accurate medication list, which is used as the basis for medication reconciliation.

Healthc Q. 2006;9 Spec No:1-140.

This special issue describes projects and research in Canadian health care that are supporting improvements in patient safety.