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Headlines about children receiving near fatal overdoses of certain drugs due to medication error, like the incident involving actor Dennis Quaid’s infant twins, understandably concern parents when their children need to be hospitalized. As a parent or caregiver of a child, you have the right to ask questions and voice concerns related to your child’s medications.
It is recognized that children are at higher risk for medication errors than adult patients, however the frequency is unknown. Medication dosages for pediatric patients are usually based on the child’s weight. Because pediatric patients vary in size, weight and organ system maturity, most pediatric drug dosages must be calculated and customized for each patient.
Computerized prescriber order entry has been associated with the largest reduction in hospital medication errors by assisting with medication choice and appropriate dose for the weight of the patient. It also helps reduce any misinterpretation in hand writing and calculation errors. There are other notable approaches to reducing medication errors in a pediatric population including standardized protocols, pediatric-trained pharmacists and teams devoted to medication safety.
Pediatric-trained clinical pharmacists have been shown to help decrease medication error rates in pediatric inpatient populations by participating in patient rounds and having an active voice at the point of medication transcription.
In addition to having pediatric pharmacists, it is important to have medications for pediatric patients prepared and sent from a pediatric-specific pharmacy. Doses from these pharmacies may be made for a specific patient or in a generic amount that is appropriate for most children. Hospitals can also provide added safety by using what is known as “oral use only” syringes that contain medications that are only to be given by mouth.
It is important as parents or caregivers to remember that you are an important member of your child’s health care team. Always inform physicians, nurses and pharmacists of your child’s allergies or any medications taken at home. Never hesitate to ask what your child is getting, how much and the reason for receiving the medication.
Although pediatric patients present unique challenges with medications, if the proper safety checks are in place, the risk of harm is minimized or eliminated. Health care providers specializing in the care of pediatric patients should be well versed in the practices that increase the safety of medication therapy in children.
Nausheen Hasan, Pharm.D., is a pediatric clinical pharmacist at Mercy Children’s Hospital. For more information, please call 314-251-6429.