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Medication errors are more prevalent, more dangerous, for kids

In April of 2008 the Journal of Pediatrics found that the care of 11 percent of hospitalized children was complicated by one or more medication problems, and that 22 percent of these problems or complications were preventable errors.  An Institute of Medicine study ten years ago publicized this problem, and it remains a serious one.  Medication errors occur more commonly in treating children and are also more dangerous.

Medication errors pose a greater risk for children because their bodies are smaller, their kidneys, liver and immune system may still be developing, their condition can deteriorate more rapidly than an adult's, and they are less able to communicate with treaters.  Further, adult medications have standard doses that are pre-packaged.  Doctor are more likely to have to calculate a child's dose, based upon the child's weight, and they must also take into account a variety of formulations that may include drops, liquids or even chewables.  Rather notoriously, actor Dennis Quaid's twins were poisoned with 1,000 times the proper dosage of Heparin, in part because the package labeling was deceptively similar.

The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals  reported that 32 percent of Operating Room medication errors involving children were dosage-related, compared with only 14 percent in adults.  The American Academy of Pediatrics reported at its 2006 annual meeting that medication errors also complicated the treatment of 26 percent of children receiving outpatient care.

There are several proposed solutions to minimize these errors, including 'bar-coding" patients and their medications or using computer prescription techniques.  These methods are used, however, in only 10 and 20 percent of American hospitals, respectively.  Dr. Steve Selbst, professor of Pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, says that one important protection is for parents to be assertive advocates for their child.

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