Medical Error Prevention Focus of WHO

DECEMBER 01, 2004

The World Health Organization (WHO) is aiming to reduce medical mistakes with the World Alliance for Patient Safety initiative. The plan will bring together governments, civil society organizations, scientists, and researchers to create and share tactics for reducing medical mistakes. Aside from the United States, Great Britain and Australia are among the major partners.

During its announcement, WHO cited statistics that 1 in 10 hospital patients are victims of preventable medical mistakes. Sir Liam Donaldson, chief officer of the British Department of Health and chairman of the WHO coalition on patient safety, said that one fourth of all medical errors are the result of medical mistakes. Reasons for errors range from sloppy note taking to different medications that come in similar packaging. Patients may be given too high or too low a dose, the incorrect medication, or no medication when one is needed.

Although electronic health records can reduce errors, they are expensive for many countries and health providers. WHO, instead, will focus on developing a clear and consistent set of medical terminology, symbols, and principles.