Following up on Catherine Carson's comment on the inadvisability of using benchmarks for certain patient safety goals, another person on the the National Patient Safety Foundation's listserv pointed out that the Institute for Safe Medication Practices has always maintained a position against benchmarking for medication errors. Here are excerpts from the ISMP website, responding to the questions, "What is the national medication error rate? What standards are available for benchmarking?"
A national or other regional medication error rate does not exist. It is not possible to establish a national medication error rate or set a benchmark for medication error rates. Each hospital or organization is different. The rates that are tracked are a measure of the number of reports at a given institution not the actual number of events or the quality of the care given. Most systems for measuring medication errors rely on voluntary reporting of errors and near-miss events. Studies have shown that even in good systems, voluntary reporting only captures the "tip of the iceberg." For this reason, counting reported errors yields limited information about how safe a medication-use process actually is. It is very possible that an institution with a good reporting system, and thus what appears to be a high error "rate," may have a safer system.
In addition, on June 11, 2002, the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention published a statement refuting the use of medication error rates, [asserting that] the "Use of medication error rates to compare health care organizations is of no value." The Council has taken this position for the following reasons:
- Differences in culture among healthcare organizations can lead to significant differences in the level of reporting of medication errors.
- Differences in the definition of a medication error among healthcare organizations can lead to significant differences in the reporting and classification of medication errors.
- Differences in the patient populations served by various healthcare organizations can lead to significant differences in the number and severity of medication errors occurring among organizations.
- Differences in the type(s) of reporting and detection systems for medication errors among healthcare organizations can lead to significant differences in the number of medication errors recorded.