How Can Patient Weighing Lead to Serious Medical Errors?

How much a patient weighs, or more importantly, how a patient is weighed may play a role in serious medical errors made in hospitals.

In the United States, the standard measure of weight is pounds.  However, for U.S. healthcare the metric system is the preferred standard.  Problems occur and patients may suffer great harm – even death – when this standard is not followed.

This is especially important in a hospital’s emergency room, when situations often dictate fast, accurate decisions.

40 Percent of Medication Errors are Wrong Dosage

Last year, the Emergency Nurses Association published a detailed position on the proper procedures for weighing patients to avoid serious drug mistakes.  The organization notes that 40 percent of all fatal medication errors involve an incorrect dosage.  A large reason for that can be traced to miscalculations over a patient’s weight, as drug administration is often weight-based.

The association advises that all patients be weighed using kilograms, and that such information be uniformly displayed in kilograms in medical records.  Kilograms should be the standard patient weight measure not only with ER scales but also in all patient hand-off communications and patient prescriptions as well.

Doctors’ Mistakes When Converting Pounds to Kilograms

The consistent use of kilograms, the association asserts, will minimize drug errors by avoiding the need for medical professionals to convert pounds into kilograms.

In 2015, the ECRI Institute, a not-for-profit organization focused on safe healthcare delivery, placed medication errors from conversion mistakes in its list of Top 10 patient safety issues. It found an alarming number of patients in some hospital units not being weighed at all, let alone on a metric scale.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of the country’s pediatric physicians, recently endorsed the Emergency Nurses Association position on metric weighing.  The doctors’ group echoed the call for all hospitals to uniformly adopt kilograms when weighing patients and administering drugs.

While adults certainly fall victim to medication dosage errors due to incorrect weight, children are more susceptible to this danger.

Serious medication errors due to incorrect patient weights are preventable.  Hospitals and healthcare providers have the responsibility, then, to take steps that will help eliminate such mistakes.

If you had a family member die or you were seriously injured because of a mistake in hospital care, speak with a medical malpractice attorney to investigate your case.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog September 15, 2017