The aim of this study from Avery et al. was to determine the prevalence and nature of prescribing errors in general practice; to explore the causes, and to identify defences against error.
The study involved examination of 6,048 unique prescription items for 1,777 patients. Prescribing or monitoring errors were detected for 1 in 8 patients, involving around 1 in 20 of all prescription items. The vast majority of the errors were of mild to moderate severity, with 1 in 550 items being associated with a severe error. The following factors were associated with increased risk of prescribing or monitoring errors: male gender, age less than 15 years or greater than 64 years, number of unique medication items prescribed, and being prescribed preparations in the following therapeutic areas: cardiovascular, infections, malignant disease and immunosuppression, musculoskeletal, eye, ENT and skin. Prescribing or monitoring errors were not associated with the grade of GP or whether prescriptions were issued as acute or repeat items. A wide range of underlying causes of error were identified relating to the prescriber, patient, the team, the working environment, the task, the computer system and the primary/secondary care interface. Many defences against error were also identified, including strategies employed by individual prescribers and primary care teams, and making best use of health information technology.