Celebrating 10th anniversary, ISMP proud of its record

October 25, 2004

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices celebrates its 10th anniversary as a nonprofit organization this year. ISMP was established to educate the healthcare community about safe medication practices in order to reduce the threat of medication errors. The institute is also involved in a wide range of projects and services, including publishing medication safety newsletters, holding educational conferences, and providing on-site consulting to hospitals. ISMP has advo-cated for improvements in drug names, labeling, packaging, technology, and medication practices to reduce the risk of medication errors.

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices celebrates its 10th anniversary as a nonprofit organization this year. ISMP was established to educate the healthcare community about safe medication practices in order to reduce the threat of medication errors. The institute is also involved in a wide range of projects and services, including publishing medication safety newsletters, holding educational conferences, and providing on-site consulting to hospitals. ISMP has advo-cated for improvements in drug names, labeling, packaging, technology, and medication practices to reduce the risk of medication errors.

In the past decade ISMP's staff has grown from a handful of mostly volunteer employees to a staff of more than 20, including pharmacists and nurses as well as the recent addition of a medical director.

Earlier this month, Anthony Vecchione, Managing Editor-Projects for Drug Topics, interviewed ISMP president Michael Cohen at the organization's headquarters in Huntingdon Valley, Pa. Cohen commented on the evolution of ISMP over the past decade, some of its major accomplishments, and what health systems need to do to reduce the number of medication errors in the future.

Cohen: I'm an optimist. I've been out there and I've been to so many different locations and I've talked to so many people since the IOM report. I've heard about major projects that are under way. I've seen organizations acquire technology-computerized prescribing, bar-coding. It's really picking up. I've seen them getting very, very serious about focusing on a group of drugs called high-alert drugs, and I've seen them getting very seri-ous about reducing errors in communications, what with verbal orders and bad abbreviations and bad handwriting. They are very serious about it. It's very hard for me to believe then that we haven't made progress in the area of patient safety. I know that there are still problems out there and there are certainly people who are getting hurt from very serious medication errors. So we have a long way to go. But I believe that we are making progress.

Drug Topics: What are some of the biggest obstacles to lowering the incidence of medication errors in health systems?

Cohen: A lot of us have worked hard on the need for changing culture. I think we have made progress. We've gotten more people to realize the system's contribution to errors. Yet we still hear that it was an individual's carelessness that was the sole cause of the error. The people who say this neglect the contributing factors that are system-based. There are always system-based causes. I've never seen an error that we've processed in which there hasn't been a system-based cause.

Drug Topics: How much is technology such as CPOE (computerized physician order entry) and bar-coding contributing to reducing medication errors?

Cohen: Regarding computerized prescribing, I've seen it work. There's no doubt that it reduces errors. But, can I say that there are no problems with it? No. Can I say that it doesn't need improvement? No. But slowly the systems have gotten better, and they're going to get even better in the future.

Drug Topics: How much progress has been made regarding problems associated with patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pumps?