Errors made by hospital staff in dispensing medication can be dangerous if not lethal to patients—worse, dosing for children or infants poses an even bigger problem, as even a small miscalculation can cause serious medical issues.
In fact, medical errors may account for as many as 251,000 deaths in the United States each year—higher than any other developed nation. At the same time, it is believed that less than 10 percent of medical errors are reported, according to a study published through the National Institute of Health (NIH).
Yet problems arise as many hospitals still weigh patients in pounds (rather than kilograms) and medications prescribe dosing instruction in milliliters and grams. The conversion has become enough of an issue that some hospitals are urging doctors to switch to metric scales to avoid mistakes.
Consider an error made in dispensing such potent medicines as chemotherapy drugs or blood thinners. The treatment could be rendered either ineffective or extremely dangerous, thus both the Institute for Safe Medication Practices and the Academy of Pediatrics recommend recording all patient information in metric units.
Just last month, the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority—an independent state agency responsible for reducing and/or eliminating medical errors by identifying problems and providing solutions— issued a recommendation that all hospitals make the switch to metric scales to avoid mistakes in measuring medications.
And Pennsylvania is not the only state to push this change. “Medications have always been dosed based on the metric system. There’s a lot of potential for human error,” says Elizabeth Wade, medication safety officer for Concord Hospital in Concord, New Hampshire. “The reason we have the weights in metric now is to prevent conversion errors.”
While the steps taken by some healthcare facilities are certainly promising, the issue might have you wondering how many people have suffered unnecessarily because of such a preventable mistake—improper dosages could lead to longer hospital stays, long-term disabilities, or even life-threatening circumstances.
While everyone makes mistakes, health care providers need to be held to a higher level of accountability than most. People’s livelihood if not their very lives could hang in the balance. No one ever wants to see a loved one’s life put in jeopardy, but certainly never for a simple mistake that adherence to the most basic of protocols could prevent. If a universal adoption of the metric system throughout hospitals is just one obvious answer, then it most obviously should be done.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.