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Title: Weakened by strengths : drugs in solution, medication error and drug safety
Author: Wheeler, Daniel Wren
ISNI:       0000 0004 2743 6592
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2008
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The concentrations of some drug solutions are often expressed as ratios or percentages. This system simplified prescription and dispensing when Imperial measures such as grains and minims were used. Ampoules of powerful vasoactive drugs such as catecholamines and potentially toxic local anaesthetics are still labelled as ratios and percentages, seemingly through habit or tradition than for any useful clinical reason. This thesis argues that adherence to this outdated system is confusing, causes drug administration errors, and puts patients at risk. Internet-based questionnaires were used to quantify medical students’ and doctors’ understanding of ratios and percentages. A substantial minority of almost 3000 doctors could not convert between ratios, percentages and mass concentration correctly, made dosing errors of up to three orders of magnitude in written clinical scenarios, and struggled with conversions between metric units. These findings are strong arguments for expressing drug concentrations as mass concentration and providing better drug administration teaching. High fidelity patient simulation was used to examine the influence of clearer ampoule labelling and intensive drug administration teaching. This allowed critical incidents to be reproduced realistically, clinical performances to be assessed, and outcome measures to be accurately recorded. Randomised controlled trials were conducted that demonstrated positive influences of both interventions for doctors and students. The difficulties that nurses encounter when preparing infusions of these drugs on critical care units were also studied and are reported. The findings presented should be sufficient to persuade regulatory authorities to remove ratios and percentages from ampoule labels – a straightforward, cheap, commonsense intervention. The lack of effective clinical error reporting systems and the extreme practical difficulties of conducting clinical trials in this field mean that a firm link between this intervention and patient outcome is unlikely ever to be made, but this should not be an excuse for maintaining the status quo.
Supervisor: Sear, John Sponsor: Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland
Qualification Name: Thesis (M.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Medical sciences ; Anaesthetics ; patient safety ; drug error ; medication error ; drug infusions ; drug dose calculation