Training programs for hospital staff need to increase awareness of prescribing errors and the importance of safe prescribing practices, according to a study in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.
Ms Tandy-Sue Copeland, Senior Pharmacist from Fremantle Hospital and Health Service and her co-authors studied the factors leading to harmful medication errors at a teaching Hospital.
They found most errors were due to slips in attention that occurred during routine prescribing, dispensing or drug administration.
"Knowledge-based mistakes also contributed to prescribing errors," Ms Copeland says.
Errors were more likely to occur during tasks being carried out after hours by busy distracted staff, often in relation to unfamiliar patients.
Communication problems with senior staff and difficulty assessing appropriate drug dosing information contributed to knowledge-based prescribing errors.
The authors recommended a range of measures to reduce the risk of prescribing errors, including staff training in how to recognise and deal with error-prone situations, an emphasis on safe-prescribing practices, and improved access to drug information at the point of prescribing.
"Attention to communication barriers and increasing staffing levels in particular areas are other potential strategies for reducing error," say the authors.
In a related editorial for the Journal, Professor Clifford Hughes, CEO of the Clinical Excellence Commission in Sydney, says there are various national initiatives that may lessen the risk of medication errors.
"The National Inpatient Medication Chart, commissioned by the Australian Council on Safety and Quality in Health Care, is an important advance," Prof Hughes says.
"It is important that the national initiative not be undermined as individual hospitals, units or clinicians make local modifications.
"Rather, local lessons must contribute to the national debate and the standard document should be improved by consensus."
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.