Drug Errors Hurt 1 in 15 Hospitalized Kids


The above headline comes from an April 7, 2008, CNN story reporting on the large number of medical errors children receive while in hospitals in the US. The article starts off by saying, “Medicine mix-ups, accidental overdoses and bad drug reactions harm roughly one out of 15 hospitalized children, according to the first scientific test of a new detection method.”

The new detection method mentioned in the article was described in a study published in the April 1, 2008 issue of the scientific journal, “Pediatrics“, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to the published journal study, “The purposes of this study were to develop a pediatric-focused tool for adverse drug event detection and describe the incidence and characteristics of adverse drug events in children’s hospitals identified by this tool.” The researchers described the tool as an actual “trigger method” that used certain indicators or “flags” to find adverse drug reactions in children as opposed to the previous method of depending on reports from supervising adults.

The results of the study showed that the rate of adverse drug events (ADE) was much higher than previously thought. Dr. Charles Homer of the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality, whose group helped develop the detection tool used in the study, stated, “These data and the Dennis Quaid episode are telling us that … these kinds of errors and experiencing harm as a result of your health care is much more common than people believe. It’s very concerning.” In the CNN article, Dr. Homer referenced the recent news that actor Dennis Quaid’s newborn twins got accidental life-threatening heparin overdoses in a Los Angeles hospital.

The study looked at 960 randomly selected children’s charts from 12 children’s hospitals and looked for the specific “triggers” in these charts. Researchers found that adverse drug event rates were 11.1 per 100 patients, 15.7 per 1000 patient-days, and 1.23 per 1000 medication doses. The study also showed that 22% of all adverse drug events were deemed preventable, 17.8% could have been identified earlier, and 16.8% could have been handled better.

Possibly the most disturbing portion of the study was that, according to researchers, only 3.7% of the adverse drug events would have been identified by previous methods. Researchers concluded, “Adverse drug event rates in hospitalized children are substantially higher than previously described. Most adverse drug events resulted in temporary harm, and 22% were classified as preventable.”

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