Medication Errors Occur in Up to Half of Surgeries, Study Says

The Mass General-led study revealed some sort of mistake in every second surgery.

Had surgery recently? A new study from Massachusetts General Hospital suggests there’s about a 50 percent chance your procedure involved some sort of medication error.

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Anesthesiology this week, observed 277 operations at Mass General, which involved 3,671 drug administrations among them. Of those cases, 153 involved a preventable medication error or adverse event—a “markedly higher” rate than retroactive studies have shown in the past, according to the study. That means roughly one in 20 of the observed drug administrations involved some sort of mistake.

The most common errors seen in this study were due to mislabeled items, incorrect medication doses and documentation, or a misreading of patients’ vital signs.

Many of the errors were no small mishaps, either: Nearly one-third of observed operation errors wound up harming the patient, either because of inappropriate drugs or doses, or side effects of the correct drug. The remaining two-thirds had “potential for harm” but did not actually affect the patient.

Although this study only observed cases at Mass General, it is worth nothing that the hospital is consistently ranked in the top three hospitals nationwide, meaning these rates may be equally high or higher in other U.S. hospitals.