When children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are cared for at home, medication errors occur in about one in five cases, according to a new study. Although the errors encountered in the study were mostly trivial, some could reduce treatment efficacy or increase the side effects of treatment.
Most information about medication errors comes from hospital settings, Dr. James A. Taylor and his team note in their report in the journal Cancer. They propose that mistakes may be even more common when medications are administered by parents to their children.
The research team investigated this possibility at the Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle over a 2-month period in 2005. The subjects were 69 children undergoing treatment for a first bout with leukemia, and their caregivers.
The investigators asked the caregivers to describe and demonstrate how medications were being given, and to tell when, how often and for how long each drug was used.
Overall, 172 chemotherapy meds were administered. At least one medication error occurred with 17 of them (10 percent). Twelve were administration errors (by the caregiver) and five were prescribing errors (by the physician), involving 13 children (19 percent).
The authors note that most of the errors had little clinical significance. However, three children had a higher risk of relapse and one ran a higher risk of infection because of the mistakes.
Nevertheless, Taylor and his associates report, the results show that parents are as capable of administering oral chemo drugs as well as medical professionals, who have been shown in previous research to make even more errors.
SOURCE: Cancer, online August 14, 2006.
Revision date: June 14, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD