Medication errors are a serious problem in the nursing home industry. Federal law requires skilled nursing facilities to keep errors within a 5% margin. This margin is broadly defined, but includes errors such as not mixing medication as directed, giving medications at the wrong time, or not dosing the last small portion of a medication. Consumer advocates and experts estimate that at least 7 million Americans experience a medication error each year. These mistakes are preventable and costly – estimated at over $21 billion.  Errors within this 5% window don’t impact licensing and they’re the types of medications many people make at home when administering their own medications.

Nursing homes which are often understaffed, medication errors are rampant. Errors are likely underreported and that the medical coding system makes it easy to cover up error-related deaths. Under a different system, the CDC argues that medication errors might be the third most common cause of death among nursing home patients.

If you’re responsible for the health and safety of an older adult,you need to understand medication administration, particularly within nursing home settings.  By building good habits around medication preparation and administration, nursing facilities can improve patient outcomes and help minimize error rates at their facilities.

Given the potential problems stemming from improper medication administration, nursing homes need to invest in better prevention practices. That starts with increasing staffing level, a strategy that could also help prevent nursing home abuse. These facilities are chronically understaffed because of low pay and poor management and have a high rate of turnover. That means staff also aren’t familiar with patients’ care regimens and are more likely to make mistakes.

In addition to increasing staffing levels, nursing homes can decrease error rates by adopting a strong medication reconciliation program.  Reconciliation processes are especially important in nursing homes, as many patients are unable to verify their medications.

Finally, as part of reducing error rates, nursing homes should minimize high-risk behaviors, such as not properly disposing of discontinued medications or medications from discharged patients, improperly transporting medications, or administering medications without fully reviewing the label directions.

Nursing home residents are the most vulnerable members of our community and they deserve safe, careful, and appropriate treatment.

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