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Therapeutic errors involving adults in the community setting: nature, causes and outcomes


Correspondence to:
David McD Taylor, Director of Emergency and General Medicine Research, Austin Health, PO Box 5555, Heidelberg Victoria, 3084. Fax: (03) 9496 3380; e-mail:


Objective: To compare the nature of therapeutic errors made by adults in community residential units (CRU) and private homes (Home).

Methods: This was an analytical case series of therapeutic errors, involving adults, reported to the Victorian Poisons Information Centre (January 2006 to March 2007). The main outcome measures were the nature, causes and outcomes of the errors and actions taken or recommendations for avoidance.

Results: Ninety-seven CRU and 611 Home residents (cases) were enrolled. These groups took 243 (median 2) and 785 (median 1) medications in error, respectively (p<0.001). The medication administrators were predominately staff members (94.8%) and the cases themselves (95.9%), respectively (p<0.001). The CRU cases more frequently had an incorrect medication(s) or another person's medication(s) and the Home cases a double dose or incorrect dose (p<0.001). Wide ranges of medications were taken in error with cardiac and respiratory medications being more common among the Home cases. Four (4.1%, 95% CI 1.3-10.8) CRU and 16 (2.6%, 95% CI 1.6-4.3) Home cases were referred to hospital. No case followed up had a serious outcome. Error cause differed significantly between the groups (p<0.001). Staffing issues and human factors were common within the CRU and Home groups, respectively.

Conclusions: Therapeutic errors in the community are preventable and differ considerably between the CRU and Home settings.

Implications: Prevention initiatives are indicated with particular attention to CRU staffing, training and procedural issues.

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