Medication errors are one of the leading avoidable sources of harm to hospital patients. In hospitals, a range of interventions have been used to reduce the risk of errors at each of the points they may occur, such as prescription, dispensing and/or administration. Systematic reviews have been conducted on many of these interventions; however, it is difficult to compare the clinical utility of any of the separate interventions without the use of a rigorous umbrella review methodology.
The aim of this umbrella review was to synthesize the evidence from all systematic reviews investigating the effectiveness of medication safety interventions, in comparison to any or no comparator, for preventing medication errors, medication-related harms and death in acute care patients.
The review considered quantitative systematic reviews with participants who were healthcare workers involved in prescribing, dispensing or administering medications. These healthcare workers were registered nurses, enrolled or licensed vocational nurses, midwives, pharmacists or medical doctors. Interventions of interest were those designed to prevent medication error in acute care settings. Eligible systematic reviews reported medication errors, medication-related harms and medication-related death as measured by error rates, numbers of adverse events and numbers of medication-related deaths. To qualify for inclusion, systematic reviews needed to provide a clearly articulated and comprehensive search strategy, and evidence of critical appraisal of the included studies using a standardized tool. Systematic reviews published in English since 2007 were included until present (March 2020). We searched a range of databases such MEDLINE, CINAHL, Web of Science, EMBASE, and The Cochrane Library for potentially eligible reviews. Identified citations were screened by two reviewers working independently. Potentially eligible articles were retrieved and assessed against the inclusion criteria and those meeting the criteria were then critically appraised using the JBI SUMARI instrument for assessing the methodological quality of systematic reviews and research syntheses. A predetermined quality threshold was used to exclude studies based on their reported methods. Following critical appraisal, data were extracted from the included studies by two independent reviewers using the relevant instrument in JBI SUMARI. Extracted findings were synthesized narratively and presented in tables to illustrate the reported outcomes for each intervention. The strength of the evidence for each intervention was indicated using ‘traffic light’ colors: green for effective interventions, amber for interventions with no evidence of an effect and red for interventions less effective than the comparison.
A total of 23 systematic reviews were included in this umbrella review. Most reviews did not report the number of participants in their included studies. Interventions targeted pharmacists, medical doctors, medical students and nurses, or were nonspecific about the participants. The majority of included reviews examined single interventions. All reviews were published and in English. Four interventions, medication administration education, medication reconciliation or review, specialist pharmacists’ roles and physical or design modifications, reported effectiveness in reducing errors; however, heterogeneity between the included studies in these reviews was high.
For some interventions, there are strong indications of effectiveness in reducing medication errors in the inpatient setting. Government initiatives, policy makers and practitioners interested in improving medication safety are encouraged to adopt those interventions.