How to Reduce Children’s Medication Errors

Every year, between five and 27 percent of all medications ordered for children results in medication errors. Many children either do not take their prescribed medications or receive an incorrect dose. The process of prescribing medications to filling prescriptions to administering the medications often has many inconstancies and gaps that put children in danger.

A new review of 63 studies on pediatric medication errors found that there are many strategies that can be taken to reduce these errors. Cooperation between doctors, pharmacists, and families is key in any approach. Since almost 7,000 deaths occur every year due to medication errors, adults involved in medicating children must be especially attentive. The review identified two easy changes as consistently effective in decreasing medication errors.

 Easy to Understand Prescriptions

Doctors not only prescribe medication, but they also have an important role in making sure that no medication errors occur once the child is at home. When doctors make prescriptions easy to understand for children and parents fewer medication errors occur.

Standard forms for prescriptions are an important way to make dosing instructions and other important information about medications clearer. For example, using preprinted prescription order forms that are both legible and easy to follow reduced errors significantly. When these forms are generated by a computer, the orders are even less likely to have errors.

By using a computer program that includes extra information such as clinical guidelines, diagnostic criteria, and computerized reminders, the risk of error was even lower. If parents are given more information about medication, they are better equipped to administer it effectively to their children. For this reason, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists should also teach parents how to administer medications and answer any questions.

Clearer Dosages

Although it is easy to give dosage information with pills, very few children’s medications are prescribed in pill form. A common way children take medicine is in liquid form. Unfortunately, many errors in dosing occur when parents administer liquid medications. Medication errors are significantly less likely if liquids are dosed in milliliters instead of teaspoons and tablespoons.

An important reason behind this is that one in six parents use a non-standard measuring device, such as a kitchen spoon that greatly varies in actual size, to measure the correct dose. While this is mitigated when parents use a dropper or a cup measure, many pharmacies do not include these instruments with the medication.

However, even when using a standard measuring device, parents who used teaspoon or tablespoon units are twice as likely to give the wrong amount of medicine to the child as parents who only used milliliter units are. Even though parents may not typically use metric units, they understand how to dose using milliliters and do so effectively.

If these two simple techniques can be employed more widely, the number of pediatric medication errors is likely to decrease. Doctors would reduce their liability and ensure a proper duty of care. Parents would be better informed about the medication that they are giving their children. Most importantly, children would stay healthier.