Medication errors harm 1.5 million people and kill several thousand each year in the United States, costing the nation at least $3.5 billion annually, the Institute of Medicine concluded in a report released on Thursday.
Drug errors are so widespread that hospital patients should expect to suffer one every day they remain hospitalized, although error rates vary by hospital and most do not lead to injury, the report concluded.
The report, “Preventing Medication Errors,” cited the death of Betsy Lehman, a 39-year-old mother of two and a health reporter for The Boston Globe, as a classic fatal drug mix-up. Ms. Lehman died in 1993 after a doctor mistakenly gave her four times the appropriate dose of a toxic drug to treat her breast cancer.
Recommendations to correct these problems include systemic changes like electronic prescribing and tips for consumers like advising patients to carry complete listings of their prescriptions to every doctor’s visit, the report said.