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Each year, about 7,000 people die because of medication errors in hospitals. Although errors can happen throughout every step of the medication process, experts say they occur most frequently during the prescribing and administering stages. According to the Institute of Medicine, on average, a hospital patient can expect to be subjected to at least one medication error each day.
Nurses play a critical, albeit relatively invisible role, in preventing medication errors, a problem that costs hospitals alone about $2 billion a year. According to a 1995 Journal of the American Medical Association study, nurses are responsible for intercepting 86% of all medication errors. However, that same study pointed out, that the process of administering medications, a practice that falls primarily to nurses, was one of two times when the most frequent errors occurred.
Nurses are spearheading efforts to facilitate better medication management and to prevent medication errors in the hospital and elsewhere. A number of projects under the auspices of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) are specifically looking at interventions to help nurses prevent errors and keep patients safe.