Errors in medicine are estimated to cause approximately one million injuries and between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths in the US every year. However, the definition of a medical error is very much debated. The most common medical and pharmaceutical errors are misdiagnosis, incorrect use of a drug, giving a patient two drugs that are unfavorable together, or performing surgery on the wrong site.
Most medical errors are due to inexperienced employees, new procedures, complex care, extreme age, or urgent care. In addition, poor communication, language barriers, lack of documentation, illegible handwriting, medications with similar names, and high patient to nurse ratios contribute to the problem.
Sleep deprivation has also been of concern. A study released claims that medical interns made double to triple the number of medical errors when forced to stay awake for over twenty-four hours.
To combat medical errors, new procedures have been put in place. For example, a free flow IV of heparin could be highly dangerous. Therefore, the staff can use an IV system to assist them. This, while reducing possible errors, places more work on the staff and thus might cause additional errors in other areas.
The leading medical field in improving safety is anesthesiology. Doses have been standardized to 1 ml, international and national color codes have been established, and there are improved airway support devices, all of which help reduce the chance and repercussions of any potential mistakes.
Pharmacies have also spent extensive time studying the causes of errors. Pharmacists are the recognized experts in drug safety.