Reconciliation is facilitated when medication data are transmitted electronically among providers, with confirmation by the patient. Three important steps are required. First, a complete and accurate medication list must be compiled. Second, the data must be structured into components such as the medication name, dose, route, frequency, duration, start date, and so on. Third, these data must be formatted in a way that allows disparate computer systems to understand both their structure and content.

The power of interoperable health care data was demonstrated after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Pharmacy chains were able to make patients’ medication lists available quickly to care providers, and states with immunizations registries were able to retrieve immunization records, enabling the enrollment of children in new schools.

Monitoring for Errors

All health care provider groups should seek to be high-reliability organizations preoccupied with the possibility of failure (Reason, 2000). They should implement active internal monitoring programs so that progress toward improved medication safety can be accurately demonstrated. Voluntary internal reporting systems have recognized limitations for evaluating the true frequency of medication errors and ADEs (Flynn et al., 2002). Error detection methods that complement such systems should be used in all care settings. These include computerized detection of ADEs, observation of medication passes in hospitals to assess administration errors, and audits of filled prescriptions in community pharmacies to monitor dispensing errors.

Many external programs exist to which patients and providers can report a medication error or hazardous situation (IOM, 2004). Voluntary practitioner reporting to an external program will continue to be important, as it is often the only way practitioners can effect change outside their organizations. Errors need to be reported and analyzed if improvements in care are to be achieved.

Adopting a Safety Culture

Patient safety can best be achieved through the adoption of a culture of safety—an organizational commitment to continually seeking to improve safety. To achieve a safety culture, senior management of health care organizations must devote sufficient attention to safety, as well as make sufficient resources available for quality improvement and safety teams (IOM, 2004). Senior management must also authorize the investment of resources in technologies that have been demonstrated to be effective but are not yet widely implemented in most organizations, such as computerized provider order entry systems and electronic health records. It has become increas-

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