Therapeutic Error Calls Among Older Adults Reported to a Regional Poison Control Center in Alabama

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Although Americans aged 65 years and older account for only 13.0% of the population, they consume one-third of all prescription medications each year. Increased life expectancy, age-related deterioration in health, and polypharmacy lead to a significant risk of potential medication errors. National Poison Data System studies have evaluated the older adult population and their interaction with poison centers; however, descriptive studies using regional poison center data to evaluate older adult–related medication errors, specifically in Alabama, have not been conducted. Our study assessed therapeutic errors in patients aged 65 years and older to evaluate the need for potential interventions by pharmacists and preventive education to reduce errors reported to the Regional Poison Control Center (RPCC) at Children’s of Alabama.


A four-year retrospective analysis was conducted by gathering call-specific data from the RPCC toxiCALL database. Calls were included if they were made to the RPCC between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2013, involved patients aged 65 years and older, and were coded as unintentional therapeutic errors. Analysis of call data was conducted using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s EpiInfo version


A total of 1699 calls were evaluated for patient demographics (sex, age), call data (month, year, shift, caller site), reason for therapeutic error, clinical effects, medical outcome, management site, and reported substance details. Nearly 40.0% of the therapeutic errors were caused by patients taking or being given the same medication twice. Five of the 15 reasons for therapeutic errors accounted for nearly 82.0% of all calls reported. The reasons included taking or being given the same medication twice (37.3%), taking or being given the wrong medication (14.6%), using an incorrect dosing route (13.1%), other incorrect dosing errors (9.9%), and taking doses too close together (7.5%). The top individual substance involved in a therapeutic error was reported verbatim by callers as Spiriva inhalation capsules (10.5%).


Therapeutic error calls represent a significant and increasing proportion of calls made by older adults to the RPCC. The frequent interactions between healthcare providers and patients create opportunities to prospectively prevent medication problems in older adult patients. Healthcare providers, specifically pharmacists, should encourage clients to always read the label on medications and should counsel patients carefully when dispensing a product that is not an oral preparation. In addition, although national drug take-back days are conducted biennially, patients should be encouraged to dispose of old medications and expired over-the-counter medications. The RPCC toll-free telephone number (800-222-1222) may be displayed to educate patients on its 24-hour/day availability. Current data will be used to implement programs for pharmacist interventions and to create appropriate educational material.

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