Background Older people in long-term residential care are at increased risk of medication prescribing and administration errors. The main aim of this study was to measure the incidence of medication administration errors in nursing and residential homes using a barcode medication administration (BCMA) system. Methods A prospective study was conducted in 13 care homes (9 residential and 4 nursing). Data on all medication administrations for a cohort of 345 older residents were recorded in real-time using a disguised observation technique. Every attempt by social care and nursing staff to administer medication over a 3-month observation period was analysed using BCMA records to determine the incidence and types of potential medication administration errors (MAEs) and whether errors were averted. Error classifications included attempts to administer medication at the wrong time, to the wrong person or discontinued medication. Further analysis compared data for residential and nursing homes. In addition, staff were surveyed prior to BCMA system implementation to assess their awareness of administration errors. Results A total of 188,249 medication administration attempts were analysed using BCMA data. Typically each resident was receiving nine different drugs and was exposed to 206 medication administration episodes every month. During the observation period, 2,289 potential MAEs were recorded for the 345 residents; 90% of residents were exposed to at least one error. The most common (n = 1,021, 45% of errors) was attempting to give medication at the wrong time. Over the 3-month observation period, half (52%) of residents were exposed to a serious error such as attempting to give medication to the wrong resident. Error incidence rates were 1.43 as high (95% CI 1.32-1.56 p <0.001) in nursing homes as in residential homes. The level of non-compliance with system alerts was very low in both settings (0.075% of administrations). The pre-study survey revealed that only 12/41 staff administering drugs reported they were aware of potential administration errors in their care home. Conclusions The incidence of medication administration errors is high in long-term residential care. A barcode medication administration system can capture medication administration errors and prevent these from occurring.
Bibliographical noteFull text available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1471-2318-11-82
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