WHO Initiative Seeks to Reduce Medication Errors

MARCH 29, 2017

Officials with WHO have launched a global initiative, dubbed the Global Patient Safety Challenge on Medication Safety, to reduce medication-associated harm in all countries by 50% over the next 5 years.

Both health workers and patients can make mistakes that result in severe harm, such as ordering, prescribing, dispensing, preparing, administering or consuming the wrong medication or the wrong dose at the wrong time, according to a statement from WHO. But all medication errors are potentially avoidable. Preventing errors and the harm that results requires putting systems and procedures in place to ensure the right patient receives the right medication at the right dose via the right route at the right time.

Medication errors can be caused by health worker fatigue, overcrowding, staff shortages, poor training and the wrong information being given to patients, among other reasons. Any one of these, or a combination, can affect the prescribing, dispensing, consumption, and monitoring of medications, which can result in severe harm, disability and even death.

The Challenge calls on countries to take early priority action to address these key factors: including medicines with a high risk of harm if used improperly; patients who take multiple medications for different diseases and conditions; and patients going through transitions of care, in order to reduce medication errors and harm to patients.

The actions planned in the Challenge will be focused on 4 areas: patients and the public; health care professionals; medicines as products; and systems and practices of medication. The Challenge aims to make improvements in each stage of the medication use process including prescribing, dispensing, administering, monitoring and use. WHO aims to provide guidance and develop strategies, plans and tools to ensure that the medication process has the safety of patients at its core, in all health care facilities.

Medication errors cause at least one death every day and injure approximately 1.3 million people annually in the United States of America alone. While low- and middle-income countries are estimated to have similar rates of medication-related adverse events to high-income countries, the impact is about twice as much in terms of the number of years of healthy life lost. Many countries lack good data, which will be gathered as part of the initiative.

Reference
WHO. WHO Launches Global Effort to Halve Medication-Related Errors in 5 Years [news release]. Geneva. WHO press office. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/medication-related-errors/en/. Accessed March 29, 2017.  



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