Marking World Patient Safety Day, Saturday, the World Health Organization warns unsafe medication practices and errors are a leading cause of avoidable harm in world health care systems.
The WHO is calling for urgent action to stop the medication errors putting millions at risk of severe harm or even death.
The agency’s quality of care coordinator, Neelam Dhingra-Kumar, noted everyone will, at some point take medicine, expecting to benefit. However, she said they can be harmful with improper use.
“There is ample evidence around the world that unsafe medication practices and medication errors is actually avoidable,” she said. “Such as incorrect prescriptions, wrong dispensing, wrong use of medicines, lack of proper monitoring. Once the physicians prescribe medicines, they are not monitored and even use of substandard and falsified medicines are a leading cause of avoidable harm in health care systems.”
The WHO said half of all preventable harm in medical care is medication-related and that a quarter of these patients suffer clinically severe or life-threatening harm.
It said the elderly are most at risk, especially those taking multiple medications. It said high rates of medication-related harm also occur in surgical care, intensive care, and emergency medicine.
Dhingra-Kumar said the amount of harm related to medication is twice as prevalent in low- and middle-income countries as in rich countries.
“That is primarily because of weak medication systems, lack of resources, lack of human workforce, not a fully trained workforce,” she said. “And even the culture; it is very, very difficult to change cultures as seen as very deeply in the system of blame.”
She said medication errors often are caused by such human factors as fatigue, poor environmental conditions, and staff shortages.
The WHO says medication practices and medication errors are a main cause of injury and avoidable harm in health care systems. It estimates the global cost associated with medication errors at $42 billion a year.