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Focus on medicines most frequently involved in serious adverse drug events can improve patient safety

12 October 2011

A new study carried out by a working group associated with the Danish Medicines Agency's network "Prevention of Medication Errors" has shown that it is more or less the same groups of medicines that have been involved in the so-called adverse events(1) from the 1970s and up until today.

The study shows that it is the use of these types of medicines at specific stages at the medication process that poses a risk of adverse drug events. For instance, the units mg and ml can be mistaken in connection with the dosage of a medicine.

A tool in the daily work with risks in the medication process

Based on the study, we have drawn up two lists of medicines that appear in high-risk situations - sorted by active substance and medicine group.

The Danish Medicines Agency and the working group behind the study hope that these lists can become an important tool in the daily work with risks in the medication process in the health sector. A tool which can hopefully help healthcare professionals to pay attention to medicines that require special safety measures, and in this way contribute to improve patient safety.

The chairman of the working group, Chief Physician Annemarie Hellebæk who represents the Danish Medical Association, comments on the study:

"To begin with, we found that the large quantity of source material pointed in all directions. Fortunately, it was possible to divide the medicines into groups and in this way present a useful overview, which the health sector can benefit from in the daily work with medicines."

In the right-hand box, you can find an overview of the two lists which nurses, physicians, etc. can print and use when handling medicines.

The entire report is also available in the right-hand box. Please note that it is directed at healthcare professionals.

About the working group

The working group behind the study was formed by the Danish Medicines Agency's network "Prevention of Medication Errors" in 2008 with the purpose of suggesting a definition and list of medicines most frequently involved in serious adverse drug events.

The group consists of representatives from Amgros, the Association of Danish Pharmacies, Danish Drug Information, Danish Regions, the Danish Society of Hospital Pharmacy Managers, the Danish Society for Patient Safety, the Danish Nurses' Organization, the Institute for Rational Pharmacotherapy, the Danish Medical Association, the National Board of Health and the Danish Medicines Agency.

About medicines most frequently involved in serious adverse drug events

Medicines most frequently involved in serious adverse drug events are medicines that have caused severe adverse events that could have been prevented. The serious adverse events have been due to either:

  • the medicines' chemical composition, effect and use in the treatment of disease
  • errors in healthcare professionals' medication process, or
  • the patient's inappropriate use of medicine.


(1) An adverse event is an unwanted event that harms the patient or entails a risk of harm as a consequence of the health sector's actions or the lack thereof.