The ED is a fast-paced environment where things must happen quickly at times. This makes it a ripe environment for errors. A recent study looked at one possible way of decreasing the number of medication errors in a Level I trauma center.
A prospective observational study was carried out in the ED, where pharmacists were on duty and attended all trauma activations for 10 hours each day. No pharmacist was present the rest of the time. The potential errors that were identified consisted of any of the following:
- medication ordered but not given
- medication given but not ordered
- delay in administration
Nearly 700 patient encounters were evaluated, with about one third seen when the pharmacist was present, and two thirds when they were away (makes sense given their coverage hours). The demographics of the patient groups were the same.
There was a huge difference in the number of medication errors! Only 6 errors (3%) occurred when pharmacists were present, but 137 occurred (30%) when they were not. An odds-ratio calculation showed that medication errors were 13.5 times more likely to occur on shifts when pharmacists were not present in the ED.
Bottom line: It’s helpful to have another set of eyes, not focused on the patient’s injuries, looking after critical medications. The error rate is so much lower with a pharmacist present that it must be cost effective to provide them 24/7. Time for another study!
Reference: On-site pharmacists in the ED improve medical errors. Am J Emerg Med Jun 10, 2011 (epub ahead of print).