Treating a patient with medicine is a complex path with many steps. From the doctor first deciding to prescribe a drug to the patient having the correct amount of its active ingredient flowing in their bloodstream, a lot of things can go wrong along the way.

The last step is “administrating” the drug, such as taking a pill or giving an injection. At this stage, where drugs meet patients, error rates range higher than 50% in some studies. Administration errors are one of the most common kinds of medication mistakes.

The five rights and wrongs of drug administration

It is not difficult to remember the “five rights” needed for a successful administration:

  • The right patient.
  • The right medication.
  • The right time.
  • The right dose.
  • The right route.

However, a recent “Patient Safety Primer” from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality looked at how these seemingly simple goals can be missed.

It also covered how the health care system is trying to meet these goals millions of times a day, every day, every time.

Looking for technological solutions

Experts are exploring ways to use both simple and advanced technology, for example, to make it as hard as possible to give the wrong dose.

Their studies show a lot of potential in barcoding medicines and patients alike. The medical staff simply scans the patient and the drug, the system okays the administration. This seems to have a great chance to guarantee the right patient, medication and dose, though it leaves some room for other errors such as the wrong timing and route, according to the Primer.

Also, in some trials, sometimes systems are “down” or patients remove or damage their barcodes so staff cannot scan them.

Some hospitals and clinics use so-called “smart intravenous pumps” that use software to reduce injection errors, but so far, the approach leaves open opportunities for serious errors, according to the Primer.