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Medication Side Effects Strike 1 in 4

The above headline comes from one of a series of articles recently published on medical errors and side effects. The first article with the title above appeared in the April 16, 2003 MSNBC news. That article starts off by reporting that 3.34 BILLION prescriptions were dispensed in the United States in 2002 alone. With this staggering number, the article reports that side effects from prescription medicines plague one in four patients, and when they surface, most doctors fail to act.

The article was stirred by a research report published in the April 17, 2003 New England Journal of Medicine. The report was based on research performed at the Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston. Chief author of the study, Tejal K. Gandhi, M.D., commented, "It's a problem that is common, in many cases the impact could be prevented or reduced, and it has a large impact on patients." In an editorial in that same NEJM issue, William Tierney of the Indiana University School of Medicine said, "They found that adverse drug events were fairly frequent and usually mild, although potentially serious, and preventable events were more frequent than any patient or clinician would like or should be willing to accept."

Two other similar articles reported that one-fourth of patients with health problems in five different countries say they suffered from a medical mistake or prescription error in the past two years. These statistics came from a Harvard-led study published in the May 6, 2003 issue of Health Affairs. The Harvard survey of sick adults was conducted in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. At least 750 persons were surveyed in each country. Robert Blendon, the Harvard professor who led the study stated, "The biggest risk is when you're seeing multiple doctors who are doing lots of tests and prescribing a lot of drugs."

The survey also showed that more than one in four, 28 percent, of those patients who see more than two doctors in the United States and Canada said they had been given duplicate tests by different doctors. In March, the US Food and Drug Administration announced it would demand bar codes be placed on all medications used in hospitals to try to eliminate errors. It is estimated that American hospitals will spend $7 billion to read the codes and computerize doctors' orders.