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Curr Drug Saf. 2012 Jul;7(3):238-46.

Comparison of methods for the detection of medication safety events in the critically ill.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacy Practice & Science, College of Pharmacy, University of Arizona, Tucson, 85721-0207, USA.



To categorize and synthesize medication safety event detection methods in the critically ill in order to provide clinicians and administrators with approaches to event detection that are intended to expand and complement traditional voluntary reporting systems.


A literature search of OvidMEDLINE was performed to identify articles related to medication safety involving critically ill patients in the intensive care unit setting. The inclusion of articles was restricted to comparative studies. The bibliographies of all retrieved articles were reviewed to obtain additional articles of relevance. The various event detection methods were compared by: evidence supporting their use; number, type and severity of events detected; phase of the medication use process in which events were detected; and ease and cost of implementation. Major limitations of each method were also collated.


There are a number of methods that can be used to identify medication safety events in the critically ill. These can broadly be categorized as: 1) voluntary reporting, 2) record review, 3) rules/triggers and 4) direct observation and 5) interviews/surveys. Relatively few studies have directly compared these assessment methods in the ICU setting, although the limitations of the traditional voluntary reporting system as the sole method of event detection are well established. Although not truly dichotomous, these methods can be broken down into more proactive and reactive approaches. Rules/triggers and direct observation of the medication use process in the ICU are examples of proactive approaches to event detection, while the traditional unsolicited voluntary reporting is typically reactive. However, each of the event detection methods has advantages and disadvantages, so the methods should not be considered mutually exclusive with respect to obtaining information about medication safety.


Given the limitations of traditional voluntary reporting systems, a multimodal approach used to identify medication safety events is most likely to capture the largest number and type of events. We would advise not trying to implement additional approaches beyond voluntary reporting systems all at once. This would be difficult and costly. Rather, we suggest a systematic implementation of additional event detection approaches that takes into account hospital-specific considerations.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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