Confusion over metric measurements leads to medication errors

Because of a lack of standardization in hospitals, a worrying number of medication errors are being caused by confusion over units of measure.

Safety experts say lack of standardization can lead to dangerous mistakes

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently issued new dosing guidelines for children's liquid medicines. According to Reuters, the AAP says health care providers should write prescriptions for liquid medicines only in milliliters rather than in tablespoons or teaspoons in order to avoid dosage errors. The recommendations follow increasing concerns about medication errors caused by a lack of standardization in units of measure in the health care industry. Safety experts say confusion about metric and English weights can cause serious and often dangerous consequences for patients, especially children.

Metric standardization

As Modern Healthcare recently reported, the AAP, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices have long recommended that health care facilities use only the metric system in order to avoid confusion about patient weights and medication dosages.

Making metric standard in health care, however, has faced resistance. Many hospitals continue to use the traditional English system or a combination of the English and metric systems. Their reasons for doing so range from financial concerns about upgrading hospital equipment to resistance by staff who prefer the English system.

Dangerous confusion

A lack of standardization, however, can have dangerous consequences. In a 2013 Maryland case, for example, a two-year-old boy's weight was entered into his electronic health record as 35 kilograms (the equivalent of 77 pounds) rather than his actual weight of 35 pounds. The mistake led to him being prescribed medication dosage designed for a person more than twice his weight. The wrong dosage led to him losing consciousness, although in this case he was fortunately readmitted back into hospital in time and was revived.

One of the problems with tackling problems of this sort is that the extent of the issue is still largely not understood. Many hospitals do not track errors linked to confusion over metric versus English measurements. However, in Pennsylvania, where reporting is mandatory, officials issued an advisory in 2009 due to 480 adverse events related to errors or confusion about patient weights. Another recent study estimated that there was an 84 percent rise between 2002 and 2012 in the number of children who experience an out-of-hospital medication error because of confusion over measurement units.

Medical malpractice

Avoidable errors like the ones described above are unacceptable and it is understandable that the victims of such errors would feel anger over the harm that a health care provider's mistake can cause. Whether due to a medication error or other type of negligence, victims of alleged medical malpractice should get in touch with a malpractice attorney today. By standing up for the rights of medical malpractice victims, an experienced attorney can help not only victims pursue compensation, but also prevent needless mistakes from harming other patients in the future.

Keywords: medication, error, malpractice, hospital