Assessing controlled substance prescribing errors in a pediatric teaching hospital: an analysis of the safety of analgesic prescription practice in the transition from the hospital to home

Benjamin H Lee, Christoph U Lehmann, Eric V Jackson, Sabine Kost-Byerly, Sharon Rothman, Lori Kozlowski, Marlene R Miller, Peter J Pronovost, Myron Yaster
Journal of Pain 2009, 10 (2): 160-6

UNLABELLED: Iatrogenic errors producing serious and often preventable injury occur frequently in hospitalized patients, particularly in children. Little is known about the epidemiology of analgesic medication errors in patients being discharged from the hospital. The goal of this study was to describe the epidemiology of controlled substance prescription errors by physicians-in-training for children being discharged from the hospital. We conducted a prospective, observational study of the analgesic prescriptions and discharge forms of 241 pediatric patients discharged from a Children's Center of a major urban teaching hospital from November 2003 to April 2004. All patients who were actively followed by the Pediatric Pain Service at the time of their discharge and were discharged with an analgesic prescription were included in the study. Primary outcome variables were the percentage of prescriptions that contained at least 1 medication error or potential adverse drug event. Errors were defined using the Institute for Safe Medication Practices' (ISMP) List of Error-Prone Abbreviations, Symbols, and Dose Designations, literature review, expert panel consensus, and the Johns Hopkins Department of Pharmacy hospital formulary. Two hundred forty-one patients who received 314 prescriptions were included in this study. Prescription errors were common; 257 of 314 (82%) of the prescriptions examined contained 1 or more errors. The most common errors were missing or wrong patient weight (n = 127, 77%), incomplete dispensing information (n = 167, 53%), and no or wrong date on prescription (n = 19, 6%). Nine prescriptions (2.9%) had the potential for significant medical injury and were considered potential adverse drug events. Discharge prescription errors for children requiring potent, opioid analgesic drugs in the management of pain are common, and nearly 3% could cause significant harm. The high rate of prescribing errors highlights the importance of developing, testing and implementing effective error-prevention strategies, especially in high-risk medications such as narcotics.

PERSPECTIVE: Narcotic prescriptions written by trainees at discharge from a pediatric hospital are error prone and nearly 3% have the potential to cause significant harm. With a low therapeutic profile, the hospital may consider a review/verification process to reduce the risk of patient harm.

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