Safety Tech: 3 Tools Reducing Medication Errors
FEB 27, 2018 23:56 PM
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Safety Tech: 3 Tools Reducing Medication Errors

by Larry Alton
 
Medication errors are unfortunately common, accounting for 700,000 emergency department visits each year for outpatients, while 5% of hospitalized patients experience an adverse drug event (ADE). Some of these ADEs are fatal, but the fact is that all of them are avoidable with the right technology. Whether patients are at home managing their own healthcare needs or inpatients in a crowded hospital, reducing errors has become a top priority for doctors and administrators.
 
Elders At Home
 
One of the leading reasons increasing at-home medication errors is an aging population. Though memory loss is not an inherent part of aging, many individuals experience some memory loss as a result of Alzheimer’s, strokes, medications, and other health problems. This can make it difficult for these patients to follow through with specific care directives or communicate their needs to family members.
 
In order to reduce at-home medication errors among elders, some hospitals have introduced long-term care apps for families featuring care instructions, daily routines, and rehabilitation information as applicable. The idea is that, for those patients capable of using the app themselves, in-app reminders and records guide proper medication use, while for those who need assistance, the necessary information is all on hand.
 
Bridging Transition Gaps
 
For hospitalized patients, one of the most common times for a medication error to occur is during staff transitions. Miscommunications between staff members, charting errors, and gaps in care can be life-threatening. Luckily, the shift to single-source EHR is one of the simplest ways to reduce or eliminate these errors.
 
Widespread EHR use means there’s a definitive source of information about patient care – what medications they’re taking, what they’re allergic to – and because it’s digitized, there are no struggles over interpreting handwriting. EHR is expected to be a major disruptor in medical care in the next several years, reducing preventable patient deaths.
 
Automation And Customization
 
It’s a simple fact: machines can break down or malfunction, but if they’re set correctly they don’t really make mistakes. That’s why introducing greater levels of automation is an ideal way to reduce medication errors, especially when those machines are mobile and compact like a new smart bandage designed by a team from Harvard Medical School, MIT, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
 
Controlled by a microprocessor connected to a smartphone or other device, these smart bandages use a small electrical pulse to melt medication gels, releasing painkillers, antibiotics, or other medications. It’s an ideal treatment for high-maintenance or chronic conditions such as diabetic ulcers, but could also improve wound care in settings where the frequent bandage changes would be dangerous, such as for military members in the field. And once the bandage is set up with the appropriate medication, there’s no chance of a drug mix-up.
 
Ultimately, reducing ADEs depends primarily on the ability of hospitals to double-check notes and procedures, but with greater automation and use of technology, medical teams can shift their attention to care and innovation. And it’s precisely the results of those innovations – the streamlined records, the automated medication administration – that will further reinforce the improvements. 
 
That’s the positive power of disruption.
 
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