Medication Errors to be Reduced by 50% Through WHO Program

Medication errors account for nearly 1% of global health expenditures.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently launched an initiative to reduce medication-associated harm around the world by 50% over the next 5 years.

The Global Patient Safety Challenge on Medication Safety aims to improve gaps in the healthcare system that can lead to medication errors and patient harm that may lead to hospitalization, or even death in some cases, according to a press release.

The program will implement novel methods for the way drugs are prescribed, distributed, and used. It will also increase patient education regarding the risks of taking medication improperly.

At least 1 death per day is associated with medication errors, and 1.3 million people in the United States alone experience injury as a result of medication errors each year.

While rates of medication-related adverse events are similar among countries, less affluent countries experience nearly twice as many healthy years lost, according to the release. Since many countries lack data regarding medication errors, the program will also gather this information.

Each year, an estimated $42 billion globally is spent on medication errors, which is approximately 1% of global health expenditures, WHO reported.

"We all expect to be helped, not harmed, when we take medication," said Margaret Chan, MD, director-general at WHO. "Apart from the human cost, medication errors place an enormous and unnecessary strain on health budgets. Preventing errors saves money and saves lives."

Every individual will rely on medication to treat, prevent, or manage an illness at some point in their lives. Sometimes, medications can cause serious harm if taken incorrectly, monitored improperly, or as a result of an error.

Healthcare professionals and patients can both make errors that can result in medication harm, such as ordering, prescribing, dispensing, preparing, administering or consuming the wrong medication/dose, according to the release.

Despite the risk for harm, a majority of medication errors can be avoided through the implementation of systems and procedures that ensure the patient is receiving the right medication in the right doses, and is taking it the correct way.

Errors can result from healthcare worker fatigue, overcrowding, staff shortages, insufficient training, and wrong information given to the patient. These errors can be serious and result in harm, disability, or death.

The WHO reported that most medication harm commonly occurs from the way care is organized and coordinated, especially when multiple providers are involved. The best environment to prevent mistakes is one that keeps up-to-date with best practices and avoids blame.

The novel initiative asks countries to address factors, such as medications with a high risk of harm; patients with multiple conditions taking multiple drugs; and patients going through transitions of care in order to reduce medication errors, according to the release.

To make improvements in the process of prescribing, dispensing, monitoring, and using prescription drugs, the program will focus on 4 areas: patients/public, healthcare professionals, medications, and the systems of products of medication.

The WHO reported they will provide guidance and create approaches to ensure that the medication process is crafted with patient safety in mind, according to the press release.

"Over the years, I have spoken to many people who have lost loved ones to medication-related errors," said Sir Liam Donaldson, envoy for Patient Safety at the WHO. "Their stories, their quiet dignity and their acceptance of situations that should never have arisen have moved me deeply. It is to the memories of all those who have died due to incidents of unsafe care that this Challenge should be dedicated."