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The frequency of a medical mistake due to systems of measurement

When receiving medication in a hospital or medical setting in California and across the nation, the last thing a patient will think of is that there will be a mistake regarding dosage. To make matters worse, there are times when this is due to little more than a mathematical error. This is frequently considered to be due to a reluctance on the part of the United States to switch to the metric system. Many are advocating this switch due to the data indicating the number of errors that are made because of this.

Drug dosage generally hinges on the patient's weight and if there is a miscalculation when converting pounds to kilograms, the patients can overdose. While the increase of health records being kept electronically has reduced paper clutter, it has also led to mathematical mistakes due to a failure to change default values. A not-for-profit patient safety organization has listed mistakes with conversion of pounds into kilograms as one of the top 10 safety concerns patients should have. There are many reasons why this occurs. Some are human errors, mistaken settings and improper conversion of numbers.

Numerous medical entities including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices and the American Academy of Pediatrics have pushed for the change to the metric system. This can be especially important with infants. Some medical facilities have switched while others are resisting in large part because of the cost of new equipment. A study of more than 63,000 medication errors in infants from 2002 to 2012 showed that around 20 percent were dosage mistakes. There has been an increase in occurrences of this by 67 percent since 2002. Slightly more than eight percent were due to confusion over how the amounts were measured. That is an increase of 84 percent.

While the studies focused on children, these measuring mishaps can happen to adults as well. Given the potential for loss of a loved one by such a medical mistake as a wrongly calculated switch from one system of measurement to the other, it is important to be vigilant of the possibility. If there has been a worsened medical condition or fatality due to this type of miscalculation, speaking to a legal professional experienced in litigation due to wrongful death is wise.

Source: Modern Healthcare, "A gram of prevention: Providers urged to go metric to avoid medication errors," Sabriya Rice, May 1, 2015

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