Metric Doses for Liquid Children’s Medication Could Prevent Errors

A new study that was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Center for Research Resources has shown that parents who measured liquid medications for their children using teaspoon or tablespoon units were twice as likely to give an incorrect dosage compared to parents who used milliliter units. The new evidence published online July 14, 2014 in Pediatrics indicates that by using non-metric units, parents are more likely to make medication errors.

These medication errors can cause serious problems ranging from ineffective treatment to overdose. Medication errors currently cause around 7,000 deaths in the United States every year, and children are more likely to be seriously affected by an incorrect dosage than adults are. The authors of this study suggest that consistently using metric units to give dosing instructions could significantly reduce these medication errors.

Risk Factors for Medication Errors

This study tested the ability of 287 parents on their abilities to correctly measure a dose of medicine. Parents not using metric units were twice as likely to measure a dose more than 20% different from the correct amount. Furthermore, parents measuring doses in teaspoons or tablespoons were 30 times more likely to use a kitchen spoon rather than a correctly measured instrument.

Using a kitchen spoon to give medication automatically increases the risk of error. Kitchen spoons are not usually accurate, nor are they reliable measuring tools. Moreover, many parents confuse teaspoons and tablespoons when using kitchen spoons, which make the errors more significant.

Dr. Shonna Yin, a doctor from the Department of Pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine associated with the study, thinks the best way to avoid this risk is to include a proper metric dosing instrument with every liquid medication. By including marked syringes, droppers, or cups with every medicine, parents would be less likely to seek out improper instruments.

A further risk factor for medication errors is a lack of health literacy. Health literacy is a person’s ability to read and use health information correctly. Although this is a more personal factor, making the administration of medication simpler by using uniform units of measure and including appropriate dosing instruments reduces the influence of this factor.

Overall, the authors of the study found the healthcare system’s lack of uniformity to be a large cause of medication errors. Switching uniformly to metric units would reduce the confusion for parents when they administer medication to their children. By adhering to the recommendations of this study, doctors and pharmacists could prevent serious medication errors and even save many lives.