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PRESS RELEASE: Medication Errors – the Most Common Adverse Event in Hospitals Threatens Patient Safety and Causes 160,000 Deaths per Year

It is no coincidence that Dr. Neelam Dhingra, Unit Head of WHO Patient Safety Flagship, recently stated that unsafe medication practices and medication errors are a leading cause of avoidable harm in healthcare systems across the world. Medication related harm represents 50% of all preventable harm in medical care, with prescribing and monitoring errors contributing to the highest sources. The cost associated with medication errors has been estimated globally at 42 billion dollars annually1, not counting lost wages and productivity.

The WHO is thus committed to the eradication of medication errors and launched a global initiative called “The Third Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm” in 20172. The aim of this initiative is to reduce medication errors and the associated harm in all countries around the world by 50% within 5 years. It is in this context that ‘Medication Safety’ has been selected as the theme for World Patient Safety Day 2022, with the slogan ‘Medication Without Harm’3.

The WHO estimates that there is one death per 1 million of population which caused by medication errors. In the EU with a population of 447 million this would equate to 163000 deaths per year. Further evidence of deaths caused by medication errors In Europe taking statistics from Spain4, Germany5 and the US6 cause between 60,000 and 131,000 deaths per year.

To commemorate the World Patient Safety Day 2022, the WHO is organising a series of webinars on medication safety and is producing several medication safety solutions and technical products in 2022. To support this global, remarkable campaign, the ECAMET Alliance7 (European Collaborative Action on Medication errors and Traceability) takes step to raise awareness of the high burden of medication-related harm due to medication errors and unsafe practices, and advocates urgent actions to tackle these major patient safety issues.

The ECAMET Alliance comprises twenty-two organisations committed to the formation and promotion of regulations and/or guidelines on medication traceability to prevent medication errors in Europe and amongst policy makers within the EU.

Clinical evidence shows that the introduction of medication traceability systems in hospitals is the most effective way to minimise medication errors, bringing about a potential an overall medication error reduction of 58%.8 Medication traceability systems include electronic prescription, electronic preparation, barcode medication administration and smart pumps, all connected to health records and hospital management systems.

An ECAMET commissioned survey9 revealed the low implementation of medication traceability systems in European hospitals.

Pharmacists clearly identified the most important areas to reduce medication errors were traceability systems such as electronic prescription, medication error surveillance and barcode medication administration systems. In addition, they identified that funding, human resources and lack of trained staff was listed as main barriers for implementing these improvements.

Given the magnitude of medication errors occurring and the lack of consistency and harmonisation of processes and the low implementation of medication traceability systems across European hospitals, the ECAMET Alliance believes that key actions need to be implemented and include10:

  1. Include medication safety in the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe, in the EU general pharmaceutical legislation and in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan through medication traceability systems in a healthcare setting to minimise medication errors;
  2. Prioritise strategic investments in medication traceability systems in the EU4Health program to minimise medication errors;
  3. Foster the development and implementation of ECDC guidelines and key indicators on
    medication errors in EU healthcare settings;
  4. Facilitate the systematic exchange of best practices between healthcare providers both at
    European and national levels to reduce medication errors in healthcare settings.

If you want to read more, you can find the press release here.

ABOUT THE EAASM

The European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines (EAASM) is an independent, non-profit pan- European Community Interest Company dedicated to protecting patient safety. The Alliance champions many patient safety issues to enhance medical practices, including the development of a robust and harmonised EU regulatory framework in the field of nanomedicines to protect patient safety. Other key activities include campaigning for the safer use of unlicensed/off-label medicines, better harmonisation of compounding practices, and the exclusion of falsified and substandard medicines from the supply chain. To find out more about the EAASM, please visit the website https://eaasm.eu/en-gb/ and follow @EAASMeds on Twitter.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Contact EAASM Director Mike Isles: mike.isles@eaasm.eu or the Secretariat: laura.cigolot@eaasm.eu


  1. WHO calls for urgent action to reduce patient harm in healthcare, 2019
  2. WHO Medication Without Harm https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/patient-safety/strategic-framework-medication-without-harm86c06fafdf0b4294bd23ec9667dfb95d.pdf?sfvrsn=b5cb2d66_2
  3. WHO World patient safety day 2022 https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2022/09/17/default-calendar/world-patient-safety-day-2022
  4. Medication errors – third cause of death in Spain https://www.fidhs.org/new-extend/los-errores-en-la-medicacion-tercera-causa-de-muerte-en-espana
  5. Study: Hospital error kills 20,000 each year https://www.thelocal.de/20140121/more-die-from-hospital-mistakes-than-on-roads/
  6. Medical errors kill almost 100,000 Americans a year BMJ. 1999 Dec 11; 319(7224):1519.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1117251/#:~:text=An%20expert%20panel%20from%20the,to%2098000%20Americans%20each%20year
  7. The ECAMET Alliance website www.ecamet.eu
  8. Effect of Bar-Code Technology on the Safety of Medication Administration Eric G. Poon, M.D., M.P.H., et. al., N Engl J – Med 2010; 362:1698-1707, DOI: 10.1056/ NEJMsa0907115
  9. Survey reports and interactive dashboard of results https://ecamet.eu/ecamet-white-paper/
  10. ECAMET White Paper – The Urgent Need to Reduce Medication Errors in Hospitals to Prevent Patient and Second Victim Harm https://ecamet.eu/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/ECAMET-White-Paper-Call-to-Action-March-2022-v3.pdf