medication errors

Recognizing & Preventing Medication Errors in ALF’s

Assisted living facilities (ALFs) and other long-term healthcare facilities like nursing homes and senior centers have a duty to provide safe, competent medical care to their residents. While most of these facilities deliver on that duty, medication errors remain a common risk. Nursing home insurance serves as the foundation of risk management, but recognizing and preventing medication errors helps not only to reduce liability exposures, but also protects the residents receiving care. In this guide, we will explore best practices for identifying common medication errors and preventing them from putting lives and facility assets at risk.

Medication Errors: Risks for ALF Residents

Medication errors can occur at any point during healthcare delivery. Most, however, come when a medication is prescribed or ordered by a healthcare professional. For the residents of ALFs and other long-term care facilities, the most common medication errors they may experience include:

  • Confusion over drugs with similar names
  • Human errors
  • Improper selection of drugs from digital ordering/prescribing menus
  • Failures in communication of orders and prescriptions
  • Illegible handwriting and/or typographical errors
  • Miscalculations in dosing (units or weight)
  • Failure to adequately monitor medication administration

Nursing home insurance protects against a wide range of risks. It is imperative that ALF managers and caregivers take the steps needed to reduce the frequency of error claims, helping to manage costs while protecting the safety of their residents. 

How Common Are Medication Errors?

Researchers have been studying the frequency and impact of medication errors in the healthcare sector for decades. In ALFs and nursing homes, exact figures are hard to come by due to flaws and inadequacies in reporting mechanisms. However, several prominent studies have unveiled an alarming number of medication errors. In one study conducted by Monash University in Australia and published in the American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC), researchers discovered that medication errors are surprisingly common, with three main groups of errors examined: all medication errors, errors dues to resident/patient transfers, and inappropriate medication administration.  Findings included:

  • All medication errors affected between 16% and 27% of long-term care residents.
  • Between 13% and 31% of residents experienced a medication error due to transfers.
  • Up to 75% of all residents have experienced at least one inappropriate medication prescription. 

Another study, this time conducted in the United States, estimated that up to 800,000 preventable medication-related incidents occurs each year in long-term care facilities. Even with the alarming frequency of medication errors, it is important to note that the impact on nursing home residents generally appears to be low. There exists the potential for serious or even fatal complications, however, and as a risk management tool to support nursing home insurance, facility managers must adopt rigorous safety practices to prevent errors. 

Reducing Medication Errors

In many healthcare facilities, advanced technologies have helped to reduce the frequency and severity of medication-related errors. Electronic health records, integrated medication error detection systems, and medication dispensing systems with barcoded tracking units have all seen widespread adoption. Unfortunately, the long-term healthcare field lags in technology; costs have been viewed as too prohibitive to implement computerized systems. 

A cost-effective solution exists – that of a web-based error reporting system that helps to track medication errors and the causes leading up to them. This system is often coupled with the implementation of a medication management team within each facility which is assigned to review every incident and to make recommendations on preventing future errors. 

Prevention of medication errors requires a multipronged approach that includes:

  • Writing down the precise medication dosage to eliminate confusion.
  • Consider patient risk factors like age, body weight, and underlying health concerns.
  • Providing clear directions and supplemental instructions on dosage and administration of drugs.
  • Raising alert levels for high-risk medications.
  • Adopting cross-checking of dosage calculations before drug administration.
  • Asking for clarification; do not assume the meaning of abbreviations or illegible writing of prescriptions. 

Most medication errors in ALFs can be prevented. Human error is responsible for many of them, and with the above tips for mitigating error risks, healthcare professionals are better able to keep their residents safe. Robust risk management practices can also reduce the frequency of nursing home insurance claims. With adequate preventative practices, error reporting, and nursing home insurance, staff can continue to deliver competent care for the residents of long-term care facilities. 

About Caitlin Morgan

Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at (877) 226-1027.