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Prevalence, Incidence and Nature of Prescribing Errors in Hospital Inpatients

A Systematic Review

Abstract

Prescribing errors affect patient safety throughout hospital practice. Previous reviews of studies have often targeted specific populations or settings, or did not adopt a systematic approach to reviewing the literature. Therefore, we set out to systematically review the prevalence, incidence and nature of prescribing errors in hospital inpatients. MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (all from 1985 to October 2007) were searched for studies of prescriptions for adult or child hospital inpatients giving enough data to calculate an error rate. Electronic prescriptions and errors for single diseases, routes of administration or types of prescribing error were excluded, as were non-English language publications. Median error rate (interquartile range [IQR]) was 7% (2–14%) of medication orders, 52 (8–227) errors per 100 admissions and 24 (6–212) errors per 1000 patient days. Most studies (84%) were conducted in single hospitals and originated from the US or UK (72%). Most errors were intercepted and reported before they caused harm, although two studies reported adverse drug events. Errors were most common with antimicrobials and more common in adults (median 18% of orders [ten studies, IQR 7–25%]) than children (median 4% [six studies, IQR 2–17%]). Incorrect dosage was the most common error.

Overall, it is clear that prescribing errors are a common occurrence, affecting 7% of medication orders, 2% of patient days and 50% of hospital admissions. However, the reported rates of prescribing errors varied greatly and this could be partly explained by variations in the definition of a prescribing error, the methods used to collect error data and the setting of the study. Furthermore, a lack of standardization between severity scales prevented any comparison of error severity across studies. Future research should address the wide disparity of data-collection methods and definitions that bedevils comparison of error rates or meta-analysis of different studies.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Kathryn Bell for her assistance with data extraction.

This systematic review was commissioned by the UK General Medical Council to contribute to the evidence base informing policy developments. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

The protocol was designed by all authors. The searches were designed by Penny J. Lewis and Darren M. Ashcroft and conducted by Penny J. Lewis. All authors were involved in extracting data from the publications. Penny J. Lewis and Darren M. Ashcroft analysed the results and Penny J. Lewis prepared the first draft of the review. All authors commented on subsequent drafts.

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Lewis, P.J., Dornan, T., Taylor, D. et al. Prevalence, Incidence and Nature of Prescribing Errors in Hospital Inpatients. Drug-Safety 32, 379–389 (2009). https://doi.org/10.2165/00002018-200932050-00002

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.2165/00002018-200932050-00002

Keywords

  • Medication Error
  • Incident Report
  • Computerize Physician Order Entry
  • Medication Order
  • Electronic Prescription