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Medical Mistakes, Drug Reactions Threaten Children

Apr 8, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Medical mistakes and adverse reactions to drugs injure 1 in 15 children admitted to the hospital, a new study finds. That study, published in the journal "Pediatrics", found that more than 540,000 kids were subjected to the wrong drugs, accidental overdoses and unfavorable reactions every year while hospitalized - far more than was previously thought.

The study, conducted by researchers at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, involved a review of the charts of 960 randomly selected children from 12 children's hospitals around the United States. The researchers utilized a list of 15 "triggers" that if found on a patients' chart might indicate possible drug-related problems. The triggers included the use of antidotes for drug overdoses, suspicious side effects and lab tests.

For every 100 children, the researchers found that 11.1 suffered from adverse drug reactions.  Of these, 22 percent were preventable, 17.8 percent could have been identified earlier, and 16.8 percent could have been handled more effectively.  Fortunately, the majority of adverse drug reactions - 97 percent - caused minor harm, such as nausea and rashes.  Unfortunately, only about 3.7 percent of adverse reactions were identified by standard hospital reports.  Overall there were far more adverse reactions to drugs among hospitalized children than once thought.  Earlier estimates had said that only 2 children per 100 had suffered adverse reactions while in the hospital.

According to the researchers, the drugs that were most commonly misused were pain medications and antibiotics. Most common mistakes included not monitoring patients, prescribing the wrong medicine, or wrong doses, the researchers said. The researchers said that the findings show a need for "aggressive, evidence-based prevention strategies to decrease the substantial risk for medication-related harm to our pediatric inpatient population".

Medical mistakes made news late last year when actor Dennis Quaid's newborn twins were given a near-fatal overdose of heparin.  Since then Quaid and his wife have been on a crusade to raise awareness of medical mistakes.  “These mistakes that happened to us are not unique … they happen in every hospital, in every state in this country,” Quaid  said in interview with the TV program "60 Minutes".  “It’s bigger than AIDS.  It’s bigger than breast cancer.  It’s bigger than automobile accidents and, yet, no one seems to really be aware of the problem.”

Quaid himself praised the new study in an interview with the Associated Press, and had this advice for parents with children in the hospital: “Every time a caregiver comes into the room, I would check and ask the nurse what they’re giving them and why.”

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