A study conducted at one of America’s most prestigious academic medical centers has found that nearly half of all surgeries involve some kind of medication error or unintended drug side effects. The new research is the first-ever study to measure medical errors immediately before, during and after a surgical procedure. The study appears to show that drug errors are common in surgery.
The new study involved the observation of 277 procedures at the anesthesiology department at Massachusetts General Hospital. Members of the research team monitored anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, and resident physicians in the anesthesia department of the medical center over the course of seven months. For the duration of the study, the researchers documented any kind of error that occurred during the process of ordering or administering a drug.
The paper’s researchers found that a mistake is made in every other operation. Longer procedures had a higher rate of subsequent problems. The most common mistakes found during the study involved mistakes in medication labeling, incorrect dosages being administered, and symptoms indicated by a patient’s vital signs going untreated. Of the errors found, a third resulted in patients being harmed. Of the adverse drug events that could have resulted in patients being harmed, less than two percent were considered to be life-threatening, 69 percent were considered serious, and 30 percent were considered significant.
MGH is considered to be a national leader in patient safety and has already implemented a number of strategies to improve safety in the operating room. For example, MGH’s operating rooms have introduced electronic devices like barcoded syringe labels and digital documentation to reduce the rate of medication errors at the facility. Because of these reasons, it is reasonable to assume that other medical facilities would have a similar rate of medication errors.
In the few earlier studies that were done, the estimated rate of medication errors was much lower. However, those studies relied on self-reported data from clinicians, rather than direct observation, which can under-represent true error rates. This type of information is very important for the medical community. Knowing the types of errors that are being made and their frequencies will help medical care providers begin to develop targeted strategies to prevent them. This, in turn, would result in fewer medical malpractice lawsuits and less money being paid out in damages to injured parties.