Avoiding medication dose errors in children

The Pediatric Insider

© 2014 Roy Benaroch, MD

The thing about medicines: they’re real bio-active substances. They do stuff. Some good stuff, and some bad stuff too. Every medicine (or, really, anything you put in your body that has any biologic effect at all) is also potentially going to have side-effects or adverse drug effects, too. To maximize the good, and minimize the bad, you’ve got to dose medications correctly.

So it’s chilling and discouraging to learn that in a recent study of 300 parents prescribed children’s liquid medications out of Emergency Departments in Philadelphia and New York, about 40% of the time the dose was misunderstood or given incorrectly. That’s a huge number of incorrect doses, and probably contributes to the 10,000 poison center calls made about children’s medicine doses to poison centers each year. Doses were twice as likely to be incorrect if the instructions were given in teaspoons or tablespoons, because those units aren’t necessarily understood correctly by everyone.

The authors suggest that children’s liquid medicines always be dosed in milliliters, and that parents be given a correct-unit-dosing device (like a syringe) marked with the exact dose. Those are good ideas. Parents should not be ladling medicine into their kids from a kitchen spoon—that’s just too inexact, and depends too much on what kind of spoon and how high you fill it. Dosing syringes can be standardized to measure the right amount, and don’t spill medicine all over the place when you’re trying to get them into Junior’s mouth.

When your child is prescribed a medication, make sure you know the correct dose, and the correct way to give the dose. Any questions? Ask your doctor or pharmacist. If you’re going to give your child medicine, you ought to do it right.

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