The headline “Four in 10 drugs wrongly administered in hospitals” may have caused undue concern to readers of The Daily Telegraph today. Similar claims in The Independent gave a misleading impression of some valuable new research into the way medicines are given in hospital.
The stories are based on a UK study looking at how nurses administered oral medicines to 679 patients with and without dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) on four stroke and care-of-elderly wards in the east of England. They found that of the 2,129 medicine doses administered, 817 doses (38%) contained some type of error. However, about three out of every four of these errors were “time errors” (the drug was given more than one hour earlier or later than planned) and it is not clear what, if any, adverse effects these might have had on patients. The percentage of other errors was closer to 10%. Once time errors were excluded from the analysis, researchers found that drug errors were more likely to affect those who had ongoing swallowing problems.