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When hospitals make medication errors, who do they tell?

When a hospital makes a medication error, do they always tell the patient? A new study says no. Only two percent of the time are patients and their families informed about a medication error, according to a new study in Critical Care Magazine.

The study found that non-ICU hospital departments made medication errors 93.4 percent of the time, while the ICU made 6.6 percent of the errors. Despite the ICU making fewer errors than other hospital departments, their medication errors were more likely to harm patients.

The most common error involved not giving a patient their medication. Other common errors included miscalculating a patient's medication dosage or not using an IV line properly. While roughly 98 percent of these errors did not harm a patient, it is still a serious issue, especially since more harmful errors are occurring in the ICU.

The researchers were surprised that a majority of patients and their families are never informed about a medication error occurring. The study found that over half the time, no actions were made after a medication error happened. What's worse is that only one-third of hospital staff members who made the errors were ever told about their mistakes.

Researchers recommended that hospitals review their disclosure policies and see what changes should be made to decrease medication errors as well as the proper way to inform patients about errors.

Hospitals can be held liable for their negligence and unsafe practices that lead to a medication or other hospital error that harms a patient. Patients and their families should consult a medical malpractice attorney to discuss their specific case and the way hospitals can be held responsible for their negligence.

Source: Fierce Healthcare, "Patients unaware of medication errors," Karen Cheung-Larivee, Jan. 15, 2013

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