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New Harvard research model may help reduce prescription errors

Sound-alike/look-alike (SALA) medications cause an estimated 250,000 hospitalizations in California and across the United States each year. This number may soon be reduced thanks to a new model developed by Harvard Pilgrim researchers.

Medications that sound and look alike other medications can be inadvertently mixed up when they are being filled at the pharmacy. According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), thousands of people are injured each year due to these medications. In one SALA case in 2016, there were 55 reported cases of medication errors between the prescriptions Brilinta, a blood thinner, and Brintellix, an antidepressant. At least two serious adverse effects occurred due to these medications.

Researchers at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute developed the model by evaluating 82 different medications that had similar names along with seven attribute measures of the products, such as color and size. These were studied against 40,000 samples of paired medications. The data was then used to make a model that can predict SALA medications based on 13 strong factors. The model was tested against 20,000 medication samples. Researchers found the model to be highly successful. The research team is planning on continuing to add new medications to the model to keep it up-to-date and hopes it will be applied in safety reviews of new medicines in order to prevent medication errors from occurring.

When calling in prescription medications for patients, it's essential that the right prescription is transmitted to the pharmacy and given to the patient. When a medication error occurs, it can cause unnecessary hospitalizations that may result in costly medical bills and lost wages. A doctor or pharmacist who doesn't take care when prescribing or filling a medication may have committed medical malpractice. A lawyer might be able to make an inquiry with a state medical board to determine if the medication errors occurred due to negligence. If it did, a lawyer may be able to file a civil claim to help the patient collect damages.

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