One in 20 GP prescriptions contains error

GPs in England make mistakes in one in 20 prescriptions, a major new study has revealed.

And while most errors were classed as mild or moderate, one in every 550 prescriptions contained “serious errors”. The research commissioned by the General Medical Council found one in eight patients had mistakes in their prescriptions, with the elderly and the young the worst affected.

The study looked at 15 general practices from three areas of England and analysed the records of 1,777 patients. The most common types of mistake were incomplete information on the prescription (30 per cent), dosage errors (18 per cent) and incorrect timing of doses (11 per cent). The most common type of monitoring error was a failure to request monitoring in 69 per cent of cases.

The risk of prescribing mistakes increased according to the number of medicines a patient was taking (each additional medicine increased error risk by 16 per cent), patient age (children and over-75s were twice as likely to have an error) and the type of medicine prescribed. In many cases, however, the report said mistakes were picked up and corrected by pharmacists.

Researchers identified a number of contributing factors in prescribing errors including deficiencies in GP prescribing training, pressure and distractions at work, lack of robust systems for ensuring patients receive necessary blood tests and problems relating to GPs using computer systems – i.e. overriding important drug interaction alerts. .

They called for improved GP training and suggested the length of the GP consultation should be increased from 10 to 15 minutes to reduce time pressures on doctors.

Lead researcher Professor Tony Avery said: “Few prescriptions were associated with significant risks to patients but it’s important that we do everything we can to avoid all errors. GPs must ensure they have ongoing training in prescribing, and practices should ensure they have safe and effective systems in place for repeat prescribing and monitoring.”

He also suggested doctors share their experiences of prescribing issues both informally within their practices and through more formal local or national reporting systems.

GMC chairman Professor Sir Peter Rubin said effective computer systems and careful patient monitoring were key to reducing errors. He also suggested doctors and patients could benefit from greater involvement from pharmacists in supporting prescribing and monitoring.

He added: “We will be leading discussions with relevant organisations… to ensure that our findings are translated into actions that help protect patients.”

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