The extent of medication errors and adverse drug reactions throughout the patient journey in acute care in Australia

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To provide an estimate of the numbers of medication errors and adverse drug reactions that occur along a person's journey through their hospital stay in Australia.


A search of databases and online resources was undertaken to identify published literature on medication safety in the acute care setting in Australia from 2008 to 2013. Data on the rates of adverse drug reactions and medication errors associated with hospitalization was extracted from the published studies. This evidence was synthesized with evidence from previous reviews of medication safety in the acute care setting in Australia conducted in 2002 and 2008.


Findings from the Australian literature across the two previous reviews of medication safety and the present review indicate the proportion of all hospital admissions that are medication-related is between 2 and 3%. Studies assessing medication errors on admission to hospital suggest there may be an overall rate of two errors for every three patients at the time of admission to hospital. Large studies examining the rates of prescribing errors in major Australian teaching hospitals give insight into the rates of prescription error and suggest that prescription error rates of up to one error per patient occur in the hospital system. The best available evidence from more recent research suggests that errors (excluding errors of timing) occur in around 9% of medication administrations in hospital. At hospital discharge, errors in medication documentation in discharge summaries may occur at a rate of up to two errors per patient.


Medication safety in the various stages of the patient journey through acute care in Australia continues to be a significant problem. However, the extent of medication-related problems in acute care needs to be interpreted within the context of increasingly complex health care. There are an estimated 230 000 medication-related hospital admissions occurring per year. This suggests an annual cost of medication-related admissions of AU$1.2 billion.

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