Causes for Medication Errors Identified in Cumulative Cause Map

By ThinkReliability Staff

Despite continuing efforts to reduce patient safety impacts from medical errors, more work is needed to make patients safer. One of the areas which has been identified as a key safety issue is that of medication errors within healthcare facilities. A Cumulative Cause Map is a tool that can identify causes proactively (before incidents occur) based on industry experience, including past errors. As a Cause Map is a visual form of root cause analysis, a Cumulative Cause Map can be considered a visual form of Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA). It captures potential causes (causes that COULD result in an impact to patient safety) in order to develop and implement solutions that will reduce the risk of the impacts.

In this case, the term “medication error” is used to refer collectively to errors that result in patients receiving the wrong medication, patients receiving medication prescribed for another patient, patients receiving the wrong dose of the correct medication or having the correct medication delivered by the wrong route, and patients receiving medication to which they have a known allergy or has a negative interaction with another medication the patient is known to be taking. An adverse drug event (or ADE) results when the medication error causes patient harm. Our analysis will focus on preventable issues. (Patients may experience an ADE even when a medication is administered correctly.) About half of ADEs are considered preventable, i.e. they result from a medication error.

In this case, our Cumulative Cause Map will identify errors that occur at all steps of the medication delivery process. This process begins when a need for medication is identified and ends when the medication has been administered to the patient. At a very high level, there are four steps to this process: prescribing, transcribing, dispensing, and administration. The process typically begins with a physician, who prescribes the medication, moves to a clerk who transcribes the prescription (if necessary), then to a pharmacist who dispenses the medication, and then typically to a nurse, who administers the medication.

Based on information from studies, industry guides, and case studies of actual medication errors, common issues can be identified at each step of the process. In the prescribing stage, a medication can be prescribed for the wrong patient if there has been insufficient verification of the patient’s identity (and a matching of the patient to their medical records). Additionally, an inappropriate medication, dose or route may be prescribed if the physician is unaware of a patient’s allergies or other medications which could interact with those being prescribed. Miscalculating a dose is another potential error at the prescribing stage. Distraction and/or similar-sounding drug names are other causes for prescription errors.

In the transcribing stage, errors typically result from legibility issues on handwritten prescriptions. However, distraction and/or similar sounding drug names can result in the wrong medication/ dose and/or route of administration being transcribed. Distraction and/or similar sounding drug names is an issue during the prescribing step, as is miscalculating a dose. When medications have to be substituted (for availability or cost concerns), there’s also the potential to choose an inappropriate medication if a patient’s allergies or current medications are unknown.

At the administration step, medication can be administered to the wrong patient due to insufficient identity verification. Or, the wrong medication, dose or route can be administered due to similar sounding names and/or distraction. According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, every interruption increases the risk of medication error 12.7%, and medical staff can be interrupted as often as every two minutes while working on the medication delivery process. For this reason many hospitals are trying to reduce interruptions of medical staff during this process by various means.

By looking at the causes that come up again and again in the proactive analysis, steps for improvement at each level of the process can be identified. Ensuring that the right patient is matched to the medical record/ care instructions at every step of the process can reduce medication being administered to the wrong patient. The use of non-handwritten prescriptions and including both the drug’s brand name, generic name and purpose can also reduce the risk of the wrong drug being administered. Ensuring that drug allergies are clearly captured within a patient’s records (and potentially on the patients themselves, in the form of a wristband) and that a current medication list is up to date can reduce the risk of drug reactions. An organization’s experience with these different types of errors will allow it to determine what level of control over each cause is necessary to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

To view the one-page PDF with a proactive analysis of medication errors in healthcare facilities, please click “Download PDF” above. To learn more about Medication Errors, please join ourĀ FREE Webinar on December 18th.