Implementation of a High-Alert Medication Program

Implementation of a High-Alert Medication Program


By Suzanne Graham, RN, PhD; Molly P Clopp, RN, MS, MBA; Nicholas E Kostek, RPh, MS; Barbara Crawford, RN, MS

 Spring 2008 - Volume 12 Number 2


Introduction: Greater than 500,000 doses of high-alert medications are administered throughout the Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) Program on an annual basis. High-alert medications (HAM) carry a higher risk of harm than other medications and errors in the administration of HAM can have catastrophic clinical outcomes. The purpose of this project is to ensure safe medication practices and to eliminate medication errors that cause harm to our patients.

The Program: KPNC leadership, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, quality leaders, and labor unions worked with regional and local medication safety committees to: 1) standardize high-alert medication-handling practices; 2) enhance education programs related to medication practices, embedding these into annual core competencies of all staff who handle high-alert medications; 3) develop monitoring functions at both the regional and local levels to ensure sustainability and ongoing systems improvements. Begun in December 2005, this program covers the delivery of high-alert medications across the continuum of care and affects all patients receiving HAM.

Measures: The initial phase of the monitoring process was put in place to measure compliance with implementation. Over the first few months of the program the 90% minimal threshold was surpassed with regional overall compliance of 95%. Following this initial process, the Regional Medication Safety Committee developed monitoring tools. Department managers carry out these concurrent observational audits at the medical centers with oversight by the Assistant Administrators for Quality and Service. These audits are designed to measure whether or not all medications on the HAM list are handled specifically to policy requirements, eg, independent double-checks, HAM stickers, etc. Audit specifications are provided for each audit tool. Medical Center audit results from the third quarter of 2006 through the third quarter of 2007 have shown a regional aggregate of 97.7% compliance. As the high percentages of compliance have held constant over time, more actionable metrics are being put in place for 2008.

To determine whether or not the program is reducing HAM errors, data from the regional Quality and Risk database (MIDAS) related to all high-alert medication errors was reviewed. Two interventions were of note: in July of 2005, there was a renewed effort to educate leaders, managers, physicians, and staff on responsible reporting in a "just culture" and the introduction of the new Responsible Reporting Form. An increase in reporting was noted at this time. In December 2005, the HAM program was introduced. There is a statistically significant drop in errors reported for 23 consecutive months following this program. These findings were similar for all phases of the delivery process. A powerful indicator of improvement is the average days between major injury and death. As of November 30, 2007, it has been 232 days since the last significant negative event was reported due to a HAM.

Conclusion: This program has been implemented in all of the KPNC Medical Centers and is in the process of being implemented in all KP regions. This spread has been endorsed by the Medical Directors Quality Committee and by the KP Boards of Directors. The Interregional Medication Safety Committee is overseeing the spread process. A toolkit containing all of the required tools plus additional materials and information has been developed and made available throughout KP. The program is the recipient of the 2007 Lawrence Patient Safety Award.


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