Honglan Wang Shares How to Improve Medication Safety


Medication is aimed at improving quality of life, as well as saving lives. And for the most part, it’s doing that. Medicine has advanced dramatically in the past several decades, becoming more effective than ever for a wide variety of ailments.

However, every year in the U.S., more than 400,000 medication mishaps take place in hospitals, which not only causes preventable injuries, but also incurs billions in unnecessary costs. But it’s not the medications themselves that are to blame – these injuries are often caused by incorrect doses or administering the wrong drugs to patients. In some cases, it means the healthcare provider failed to give the medication to the patient, or the patient simply didn’t take it.

Honglan Wang, an experienced pharmaceutical research consultant, says some estimates put the number of preventable deaths in the country from medical errors (including wrong doses or types of medications) at more than 250,000.  A study of 10 hospitals in North Carolina showed that more than 18 percent of patients were harmed by medical procedures and medications, in that order.

However, there is awareness among the healthcare community across the country about this problem, and efforts can be made to address it, she adds.

Factors Leading to Medication Errors

Despite technology and advances in medicine, human error plays a big role when it comes to patients being injured – or killed – by medications. Medical professionals that administer drugs to patients are prone to fatigue, distractions, and even misunderstanding instructions just like any other human.

In fact, and Honglan Wang points out, miscommunication is the leading cause of medication mistakes in a healthcare setting. In some cases, the wrong medications are prescribed due to not understanding the handwritten prescription. This can also be made worse by the fact some medication names are similar, leading to potentially dangerous mix-ups.

Other findings show that without streamlining the entire process, computers don’t solve everything when it comes to avoiding medication errors – although there are a number of automated procedures in place with proven benefits. For example, electronic prescription ordering (as well as electronic lab and diagnostic test ordering) can help avoid misinterpretations.

Awareness Is Key for Medication Safety

Despite advances in health information technology that keeps track of medication allergies and allows electronic ordering by physicians, having health teams and the patient on the same page can go a long way to preventing errors, says Honglan Wang.

In some cases, the patient won’t be able to be part of this process due to their condition. But in many cases, the prescribing doctor can use a “teach-back” method to ensure the patient understands what their medication is being used for. This approach, which involves the patient explaining what they have learned about their medications, can increase the sense of involvement in their own healthcare, says Honglan Wang. Along with verbal communication, health providers can provide written or printed information that reinforce the information.

The patients can take a more active role in their own healthcare management to decrease risk, she adds. For example, they can ensure the full list of medications they’re taking are documented and maintain a list to show to other healthcare providers when receiving treatment. Patients should ask questions when they don’t understand about their medication, while also understanding any possible side effects.

Medication injuries are not just limited to a healthcare setting. There can be times when a patient is not aware of adverse drug interactions, and order over-the-counter drugs that can put them at risk.

Patients Should Take Part In Medication Reconciliation

This is a method used by healthcare professionals to help decrease the number of errors involved with medication. More specifically, medication reconciliation allows doctors to compare your list of prescribed drugs with ones you are currently taking, which can cut down on dosage errors and negative interactions, says Honglan Wang.

Health teams should review this information whenever there’s a transfer of care of a new medication prescribed. But patients can also assist in the process by ensuring they provide an accurate list of current medications, and any medications that have caused them problems in the past. Pharmacists can also help by making sure patients are adhering to their medication schedule, as well as checking whether the drug is safe for the patient due to allergies or interactions.

While health teams can use improved methods to order and track prescriptions as well as ensuring dosage is accurate, patients play a big role in ensuring their own medication safety, says Honglan Wang.


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