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The medication-use process is highly complex with many steps and risk points for error, and those errors are a key target for improving safety. This Library reflects a curated selection of PSNet content focused on medication and drug errors. Included resources explore understanding harms from preventable medication use, medication safety improvement strategies, and resources for design.

Chua K-P, Brummett CM, Conti RM, et al. Pediatrics. 2021;148(3):e2021051539.
Despite public policies and guidelines to reduce opioid prescribing, providers continue to overprescribe these medications to children, adolescents, and young adults. In this analysis of US retail pharmacy data, 3.5% of US children and young adults were dispensed at least one opioid prescription; nearly half of those included at least one factor indicating they were high risk. Consistent with prior research, dentists and surgeons were the most frequent prescribers, writing 61% of all opiate prescriptions.
Smalley CM, Willner MA, Muir MKR, et al. Am J Emerg Med. 2020;38(8):1647-1651.
This study assessed the impact of electronic health record (EHR) interventions to standardize opioid prescribing practices across a large health system. Interventions included (1) deleting clinician preference lists, (2) default dose, frequency, and quantity, (3) standardizing formularies, and (4) dashboards with current opioid prescribing practices. In the 12 months after implementation, there was a decrease in the rate of opioid prescriptions overall, prescriptions exceeding three days, prescriptions exceeding prespecified morphine equivalent doses, and non-formulary prescriptions.
Howlett MM, Butler E, Lavelle KM, et al. Appl Clin Inform. 2020;11.
Using a pre-post approach, this study assessed the impact of implementing electronic prescribing and smart pump-facilitated standard concentration infusions on medication errors in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). The overall error rates were similar before and after implementation but the error types changed before and after implementation of these tools. After implementation, lack of clarity, incomplete orders and wrong unit errors were reduced but dosing errors, altered orders and duplicate errors increased. Pre-implementation, 78% of errors were deemed preventable by electronic prescribing and smart-pumps; post-implementation 27% of errors were attributed to the technology and would not have occurred if the order was not electronically created or administered via the smart-pump.
Fortman E, Hettinger AZ, Howe JL, et al. J Am Med Inform Asso. 2020.
Physicians from different health systems using two computerized provider order entry (CPOE) systems participated in simulated patient scenarios using eye movement recordings to determine whether the physician looked at patient-identifying information when placing orders. The rate of patient identification overall was 62%, but the rate varied by CPOE system. An expert panel identified three potential reasons for this variation – visual clutter and information density, the number of charts open at any given time, and the importance placed on patient identification verification by institutions.  
A 54-year-old man was found unconscious at home with multiple empty bottles of alcoholic beverages nearby and was brought to the emergency department by his family members. He was confused and severely hyponatremic, so he was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). His hospital stay was complicated by an error in the administration of hypertonic saline.
Horng S, Joseph JW, Calder S, et al. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(12):e1916499.
The adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems has led to unanticipated patient safety concerns, such as duplicate orders for tests and medications. This study found that the implementation of a visual aid within the computerized provider order entry (CPOE) system to flag duplicate orders was associated with a 49% decrease in duplicate laboratory orders and a 40% decrease in radiology orders. The authors did not find a decrease in duplicate medication orders. A previous WebM&M commentary describes an adverse event related to duplicate medication orders.
Eslami K, Aletayeb F, Aletayeb SMH, et al. BMC Pediatr. 2019;19:365.
Medication errors are thought to be common in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). This study compared the incidence of medication errors occurring in two NICUs over a three-month period. Over the study period, there were an average of 3.38 medication errors per patient and three-quarters of neonates experienced at least one error. Preterm neonates experienced medication errors significantly more often than term neonates. Errors in prescription dosage and administration were the most common errors.
Lermontov SP, Brasil SC, de Carvalho MR. Cancer Nurs. 2019;42:365-372.
Bone marrow transplantation requires complex drug therapy management. This systematic review identified 11 studies reporting both medication prescription and administration errors, as well as issues such illegible writing, polypharmacy, absence of medication reconciliation, and lack of patient education. These errors resulted in a variety of adverse events.  The review identified several prevention measures that can be implemented at the provider-level or systems-level (e.g., computerized prescribing systems).
Kadmon G, Pinchover M, Weissbach A, et al. J Pediatr. 2017;190:236-240.e2.
This observational study found that prescription errors were less frequent in 2007, shortly after computerized physician order entry implementation, than in 2015. Changes to decision support in 2015 led to a subsequent reduction in errors in 2016. The authors argue for surveillance of electronic prescribing in order to detect medication errors.
Hermanspann T, Schoberer M, Robel-Tillig E, et al. Front Pediatr. 2017;5:149.
Parenteral nutrition dosing and preparation is complex and error-prone. This prospective study found that even with computer provider order entry, clinical pharmacist review identified errors in 4% of orders. The authors suggest that pharmacist review be included as part of the parenteral nutrition ordering process in order to prevent adverse events.
Prgomet M, Li L, Niazkhani Z, et al. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2017;24(2):413-422.
While prior research has shown that computerized provider order entry and clinical decision support systems have the potential to improve patient safety, less is known about the impact of such systems in intensive care units. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, investigators found an 85% decrease in prescribing errors and a 12% reduction in ICU mortality rates in critical care units that converted from paper orders to commercially available computerized provider order entry systems.
Carayon P, Du S, Brown R, et al. J Healthc Risk Manag. 2017;36:6-15.
Despite the demonstrated success of technology in reducing medication errors, preventable adverse drug events remain a significant source of harm to patients. Researchers analyzed data on medication safety events in 2 ICUs at a medical center and found 1622 preventable adverse drug events among 624 patients. About one third of these events were related to electronic health record use, including duplicate orders.
Cho I, Park H, Choi YJ, et al. PLoS One. 2014;9:e114243.
This study reviewed prescriptions following implementation of a computerized provider order entry system. More than half of examined prescriptions had medication errors, most often related to incorrect documentation of verbal orders. These results add to concerns about unintended consequences of computerized provider order entry.
Green RA, Hripcsak G, Salmasian H, et al. Ann Emerg Med. 2015;65:679-686.e1.
While computerized physician order entry is expected to significantly reduce adverse drug events, systems must be implemented thoughtfully to avoid facilitating certain types of errors. A forcing function that mandated correct patient identification resulted in a moderate decrease in wrong-patient prescribing errors within a computerized provider order entry system.
Balasuriya L, Vyles D, Bakerman P, et al. J Patient Saf. 2017;13(3):144-148.
This before-and-after study found that introduction of a tiered alert system for medication dosages in pediatric patients led to an increase in alerts, but also resulted in fewer overridden alerts and more medication order revisions. This work emphasizes the need to improve electronic medication alerts to make them more actionable and reduce alert fatigue.
Armada ER, Villamañán E, López-de-Sá E, et al. J Crit Care. 2014;29:188-93.
According to this before-and-after study, implementation of computerized physician order entry was associated with fewer medication errors and improved legibility. These findings add to the conflicting evidence about introduction of health information technology and errors.
Carayon P, Wetterneck TB, Cartmill R, et al. BMJ Qual Saf. 2014;23:56-65.
As the patient safety field matures, there is increasing recognition of the need to incorporate human factors engineering methods into analyzing errors and developing solutions. These methods were used to investigate the types and frequency of medication errors in two intensive care units. Although existing medication safety interventions have mainly targeted errors at individual stages of the medication management process (e.g., computerized provider order entry [CPOE] to prevent prescribing errors), this study found that in many cases, errors occurred in an interdependent fashion at multiple stages of the process. For example, incorrect transcription of an order could then lead to a medication administration error. While CPOE is likely a solution for a significant proportion of errors, this study's results indicate a need for closed-loop systems that can minimize the risk of all types of medication errors.