Staggering Number of Medication Errors During ICU Transfers

Nearly 50% of patients who are transferred from an ICU suffer a medication error that can have potentially lethal consequences. These errors can occur for any number of reasons ranging from improperly maintained records to poor communication. While most errors don’t result in fatalities, many cause serious harm that can complicate treatment and prolong recovery.

Common Medication Errors

Any medication can be administered in the wrong dose, or at the wrong time. When medication errors occur, there are approximately two instances per patient. The most common medication errors associated with ICU transfers include hematologic agents, anti-infectives, and intravenous fluids. Others include electrolytes and diuretics. These errors can cause dangerous drops in blood pressure, blood thinning, and other potentially lethal side-effects. When left untreated, medication errors can cause heart attacks, strokes, seizures, or other injuries that can permanently damage the individual’s health and diminish their recovery prospects. 

The Risk to Patients

While just under 50% of patients suffer a medication error in an ICU transfer, 94% of these errors are considered Category C, which means that they do not cause significant harm. Medication errors are often caused by poor communication between physicians and other members of the medical team, miscommunication between patients and doctors, and communication errors between ICU personnel and paramedics. Other causes include drugs that have similar-sounding names, medications that look alike, and improper use of medical abbreviations. 

When a patient receives the improper dose or a “double dose,” it’s vital to respond quickly and appropriately. Doctors have a duty of care that requires them to quickly identify and correct errors made by other physicians, nurses, paramedics, etc. When any member of the medical team fails to protect a patient from preventable harm, they are negligent in this duty.   

Preventing Medication Errors

Preventing medication errors is essential for protecting patient safety. Because patients in ICU are often incoherent or unconscious, it is vital that family members and caregivers take an active role in ensuring they are properly treated. Family and caregivers should question the medications the individual receives, including information regarding the dosage, frequency, and side-effects to watch for. It is also vital to ensure this information is recorded on the individual’s physical and electronic patient records prior to the transfer to or from the ICU.