Medications – Safety and Calculations


Medicines are the most common treatment used in health care. When used appropriately their benefits in improving health care and health outcomes are well known. Their safe prescribing, dispensing, and administration are critical in preventing adverse events associated with error. When errors do occur, the results can be catastrophic. In fact, medications are associated with more errors and adverse events than any other aspect of health care. While the rate of catastrophic injury or death associated with medication errors is low, less serious adverse effects on health outcomes and injury do occur, are costly and mostly avoidable.

The Australian Safety and Quality Council of Australia has made the safe use of medicines a priority and medication safety is a National Safety and Quality Health Service standard. This is no surprise given that the rate of hospital admissions in Australia associated with medications has remained relatively constant at 2%-3%. However, the rate increases to 20%-30% for people aged over 65 years. The cost of medication related admissions were estimated to be $1.2 billion in 2011. The concern extends to the community and the rate of people seeing a general practitioner as a result of medication error is also constant and thought to be at least 10%.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care has identified improving the safety and quality of medication usage in Australia as one of its priorities. Reducing errors and harm from medicines is a national priority and should be a priority for all healthcare providers and workers. For anyone involved in prescribing, dispensing, or administering medications, the ability to do so safely is essential.

This module is aimed at all people at the Aboriginal health service who are involved in medication administration. Its focus is on medication calculations however the first part of the module discusses briefly the evidence of medication errors in Australia and provides brief tips for systems improvements. The module then recaps on the eight rights of medication administration. The second part of the module is about medication calculations. The module provides a guide for correctly calculating doses for oral tablets, oral liquids, injectable solutions, and intravenous infusions. The medication calculation test focuses on calculations performed in an Aboriginal health service.

Following the module, there is a quiz. The quiz requires a 100% pass mark. Participants are provided only one opportunity to provide the correct answer.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this module participants will be able to:

  • Understand the main reasons why medication errors occur and the factors that can contribute to them.
  • Understand how to avoid medication errors in the administration of medications.
  • Know how to calculate the correct dosages for oral medications.
  • Know how to calculate the correct dosages for injectable solutions.
  • Know how to calculate the correct dosages for infusions.

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