Background Few institutions currently track intensive care unit (ICU)-specific medication safety data. A comparison of medication error data for intensive care and general care units may determine if ICU-specific surveillance is needed.
Objective To compare the type, cause, contributing factors, level of staff initiating an error, medication use process node, drug classes and patient outcomes for voluntarily reported medication errors occurring in ICUs and general care units.
Design Retrospective evaluation of voluntarily reported medication errors over 4.5 years at a 647-bed academic medical centre containing greater than 120 ICU beds. Adult patients with a reported medication error in intensive care and general care units were included. Medication error data were compared for ICUs with general care units.
Main measures and results There were a total of 3252 medication errors reported with 541 and 2711 occurring in ICUs and general care units, respectively. Primary types of medication errors were prescribing in the ICUs and omission in the general care units. Leading causes of medication errors were procedure/protocol not followed and knowledge deficit in the ICU and general care units. More frequently there was no contributing factor identified for medication errors in the ICUs. The top three drugs associated with medication errors in the ICUs were opioid analgesics, β-lactam antimicrobials and blood coagulation modifiers compared with anti-asthma/bronchodilators, narcotic analgesics and vaccines in the general care units. The level of care provided after the error was observation increased/initiated in ICUs and no additional care in general care units. Prolonged hospitalisation was a result of medication errors in 1% of ICU cases and 0.4% of general care unit errors (p = 0.056). Medication errors were associated with harm in 12% and 6% of cases in the ICUs and general care units, respectively (p<0.001).
Conclusion Type, contributing factors, drug classes and patient outcomes associated with voluntarily reported medication errors differ in intensive care and general care units so it is important to develop surveillance systems that analyse ICU-specific data allowing systematic changes for this patient population.
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Competing interests None.