The recent case of actor Dennis Quaid's newborn twins, who were reportedly given 1,000 times the intended dosage of a blood thinner at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, underscores one of the biggest problems facing the healthcare industry: medication errors.
At least 1.5 million Americans a year are injured after receiving the wrong medication or the incorrect dose, according to the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academies of Science. Such incidents have more than doubled in the last decade.
The errors are made when pharmacists stock the drugs improperly, nurses don't double-check to make sure they are dispensing the proper medication or doctors' bad handwriting results in the wrong drug being administered, among other causes.
"Health care is just beginning to realize how big a problem it has with patient safety," said Albert Wu, professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Errors are disturbingly common. The health care system has to take a step back and invest more in research and improving patient safety. Until it does, these kinds of incidents will keep happening."
Serious injuries associated with medication errors reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration increased from about 35,000 in 1998 to nearly 90,000 in 2005, according to a report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. More than 5,000 deaths were tallied in 1998, but in 2005 more than 15,000 deaths were reported.
Heparin is one of five drugs most commonly associated with errors in hospitals, along with insulin, morphine, potassium chloride and warfarin. The five drugs account for 28 percent of all errors that resulted in extended hospitalizations, according to a 2002 study by United States Pharmacopeia.
The problem is causing so much concern that the Joint Commission, which accredits 85 percent of the nation's hospitals, has made the safe use of anticoagulants like heparin one of its top national patient safety goals.
Rong-Gong Lin II and Teresa Watanabe write for The Los Angeles Times