Medication errors have been a problem for decades, but national concern has escalated since the Institute of Medicine in 1999 estimated that they kill at least 7,000 Americans annually, with preventable medication errors adding about $2 billion in additional costs each year to hospitals across the nation.
Medication errors not only cost us precious lives, they drain budgets and detract from investments that could otherwise be used to treat patients and enhance the quality of care. According to a follow-up study by IOM in 2006, each preventable medication error adds at least $8,750 to the cost of a hospital stay. Overall, medication errors cost insurers and health care providers in the nation up to $77 billion each year.
The continued proliferation of medication errors is an endemic problem. Despite the ongoing evolution of health care technology and the federal push to institutionalize health IT through the meaningful use program, the costs of medication errors continue to permeate health care.
Fortunately, errors, by their definition, are preventable. If we are willing to make the policy, regulatory, financial and time commitments necessary to mitigate the factors that contribute to such errors, we can prevent them.
To start, we must prioritize by targeting the area where medication errors occur most commonly: the administration of intravenous medication. According to a hospital study, an estimated 56% of medication errors are associated with the use of I.V. medications, and 90% of all hospital patients receive at least one infusion as part of their treatment. Nearly all hospital patients are potential victims if appropriate proactive measures are not taken to reduce errors that occur in connection with the use of I.V. medication.
The medication administration process is complex and usually manual. In one example, a hospital had a 17-step programming process, and the entire process occurred with no direct communication with the hospital's EHR or other systems. In order to reduce medication errors, it is important to work to reduce the number of steps required to administer an I.V. medication, while concurrently reducing the manual elements of the process that leave the door open to data entry and patient identification errors.
The Promise of Clinical Integration Technology
The adoption of I.V. clinical integration technology can help tackle the more than 1.5 million medication errors that occur every year. I.V. clinical integration is a streamlined process that involves integrating advanced smart infusion pumps with a hospital's EHR system, significantly reducing the possibility of error while simplifying the I.V. administration process.
With an I.V. clinical integration system in place, hospitals have the ability to verify with a patient's EHR that the proper medication, frequency and dosage are prepared for the correct patient before administration of I.V. medication. The technology also helps institutions track all medications administered through smart infusion pumps. And thanks to the integration and automation of the process, nurses no longer have to go through a 17-step process to program infusion pumps.
Initial research shows that after the implementation of I.V. clinical integration technology, individual hospitals saw a 32% reduction in reported heparin administration errors and a 27% reduction in nursing time to start a new infusion, as well as roughly $6.8 million a year in avoided costs. And that doesn't even quantify the lives that may have been saved across multiple hospitals.
Using I.V. clinical integration to link infusion pumps to EHRs helps deliver the trifecta for hospitals: safety, efficiency and avoided costs.
U.S. Regulators, Policymakers Must Push Technology's Adoption
Widespread adoption of I.V. clinical integration is the key to helping drive down the rate of medication errors across the country.
To achieve this, greater support at the national level is needed to raise awareness of the issue and encourage widespread adoption at hospitals. By urging the implementation of I.V. clinical integration, U.S. regulators and policymakers have an opportunity to take proactive measures that can help immediately reduce medication errors, in turn saving our country thousands of lives and billions of dollars annually.
In order to encourage the nation's hospitals to modify their I.V. administration practices, HHS should consider including I.V. clinical integration as criterion for success as it establishes quality improvement goals and promulgates future health IT rules and regulations. With hospitals becoming advanced EHR adopters, I.V. clinical integration is a practical next step to add clear value to their efforts and take the safety and efficiency of medication administration to the next level.
If we are serious about preventing medication errors, we must prioritize our time, resources and energy for the implementation of high-value, high-impact safety technology like I.V. clinical integration. Lives will be saved, but first we must overcome the inertia of current practices and expectations to make integration a priority for all hospitals in the U.S.