Rate of harm done to kids by medications higher than expected

Rate of harm done to kids by medications higher than expected

by Amy Mastin

An alarming new study reveals that 1 in 15 hospitalized children are inadvertently harmed by medications, a statistic much higher than previously estimated.

Researchers at Stanford University's Packard Children's Hospital and Children's Hospital of Los Angeles published the study this spring after reviewing 960 charts from 12 children's hospitals across the country.

"We wanted to better understand the magnitude of harm in order to mitigate and eventually prevent it," says Dr. Paul Sharek, senior author of the study and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Most of the mistakes involved painkillers and antibiotics, researchers learned. Ninety-seven percent of these adverse drug events caused minor harm, such as nausea and rashes. However, some "did have the potential to cause significant harm," Sharek says, resulting in prolonged hospitalization. No deaths were reported.

A 2007 study investigating medication errors made among surgical patients revealed similar results. According to the United States Pharmacopeia, which sets standards for prescription and over-the-counter medications, rate of harm for children is 12 percent. Errors are not just made by doctors and nurses, says Diane Cousins, pharmacopeia health care specialist, but by technicians and secretaries, too.

Many drugs in the marketplace today have never been tested on children, Cousins adds, so doses are often guesswork based on weight. "That's where errors occur," she says.

Many recommendations have stemmed from these studies, including weighing children in kilograms, the standard for calculating proper doses, and a pharmacist consultation for each patient. And because young children are often unable to communicate their needs, parents should be involved with all aspects of medication administration, Sharek says.

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