Children Victims of Too Many Medical Errors

In a report from the April 25, 2001 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and reported on the WebMD web site, comes an alarming report of research on the high incidence of medical errors effecting hospitalized children. According to the study researchers looked at 1,120 children admitted to two teaching hospitals during the spring of 1999. They reviewed almost 11,000 orders for medications and found 616 errors which translates into a 6% error rate.

According to the study most of these errors were relatively small resulting from clerical problems. However, alarmingly 115 of them could have potentially lead to harm, and 26 actually did lead to harm to the children. In as much as previous studies have shown an alarmingly high rate for medical errors overall, this recent study shows that the number of potential problems was three times higher in children as compared to a previous study of medical errors in adults.

Study author Rainu Kaushal, MD, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, says, "Children pose unique challenges. Unlike adults, almost all pediatric drug doses must be specially calculated. Pharmacists often have to dilute stock solutions to make them suitable for children. When a error occurs, very small, very sick children may not have the internal buffers needed to deal with even a small dosing error."

Leon Wyszewianski, PhD, an associate professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health commented on a solution, "Lowering the error rate is not just a matter of getting physicians to change their ways. We have to change the systems that surround them. We have to hold administrators and managers accountable for solving problems like this."