Prescription for Safer Healthcare: Strategies to Mitigate Medical Errors

HARMAN Digital Transformation Solutions
Feb 20, 2024 9:30 AM ET
Doctor shown using an MRI.

Originally published on HARMAN Insights

Medical errors pose substantial challenges including patient harm, healthcare system strain and potentially tragic loss of life. This white paper addresses the critical issue of medical errors within the healthcare industry and presents comprehensive strategies to mitigate these errors to help ensure safer and more effective patient care.

In this paper, we discuss:

  • The root causes of medical errors and examine them across medical practices, medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies
  • How proactive measures, such as education, awareness and technology integration, can significantly reduce such errors
  • The transformative potential of digitalization in healthcare and provide insights into how it can mitigate risks and improve overall effectiveness
  • The improvements required in healthcare, medical device manufacturing and pharmaceuticals to create a safer healthcare ecosystem

By addressing all these areas, healthcare organizations, professionals and stakeholders can collaborate to enhance patient safety, restore trust and ultimately, save lives.

Current challenges: The toll of medical errors and patient harm

Medical errors remain a pervasive and critical concern within the healthcare industry. These errors lead to many adverse outcomes. Recent statistics reveal the gravity of the situation.

Medical errors are estimated to be one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with studies suggesting they claim hundreds of thousands of lives annually.

Financial impact 
Medical errors result in substantial financial burdens on healthcare systems, contributing to increased healthcare costs and malpractice claims.

Patient confidence 
Medical errors erode patient trust in healthcare systems, leading to reduced patient satisfaction and engagement in their care.

The role of healthcare in the cause and effect of medical errors

When healthcare, medical device and pharmaceutical companies create situations where errors are made, it can significantly impact patient outcomes. But a growing awareness of potential errors can help in addressing and preventing them.

  • Healthcare providers: Misdiagnosis, medication errors, surgical complications and communication breakdowns often originate from healthcare provider environments where clinical and operational staff may be overworked, fatigued or inadequately trained.
  • Medical device manufacturing: Complex medical devices are integral to patient care but can contribute to errors when improperly calibrated, maintained or operated. Software glitches and user interface issues can also pose risks.
  • Pharmaceutical companies: Medication errors, including prescription and dispensing mistakes, can occur due to unclear labeling, packaging or improper drug information dissemination.

Root causes of medical errors and examples

The occurrence of medical errors is often rooted in multiple factors, including complex healthcare systems, communication challenges and the pervasive issue of provider burnout. To proactively mitigate errors, medical companies require a comprehensive understanding of these underlying root causes.

  • Complex healthcare systems: The inherent complexity of modern healthcare, involving numerous steps, providers and technologies, contributes to errors. For example, a mix-up in patient records can lead to misdiagnosis or incorrect treatment.
  • Communication challenges: Poor communication among healthcare teams as well as with patients can lead to misunderstandings and critical errors. A lack of clear handoff procedures during shift changes can result in critical missed information.
  • Provider burnout: Overworked and stressed healthcare providers are more prone to errors, impacting patient care quality. An exhausted nurse administering the wrong medication dose exemplifies this issue.

Strategies to prevent medical errors

Continuous education and awareness campaigns are essential for both healthcare providers and patients to recognize and prevent errors. To that end, effective strategies include:

  • Standardized protocols: Implement standardized protocols and guidelines to reduce variability in care and minimize errors. For instance, standardized surgical checklists prevent crucial steps from being missed.
  • Patient involvement: Empower patients to actively participate in their healthcare decisions, such as reviewing medication lists for accuracy and reporting any discrepancies to their healthcare providers.
  • Technology integration: Embrace technology to improve patient safety, including electronic health records (EHRs) for streamlined information sharing and decision support systems to assist healthcare providers in making informed decisions.
  • Patient education and engagement: Develop patient education platforms that provide clear, easy-to-understand information about medications, treatment plans and potential side effects. Use AI-driven chatbots or virtual assistants to engage with patients and answer their healthcare-related questions promptly.
  • Data integration and interoperability: Ensure seamless data exchange and interoperability between healthcare systems, EHRs, IoT 
    devices and patient apps to provide a comprehensive view of a patient's health. Use AI-powered data analytics to identify trends and potential issues related to medication adherence or treatment effectiveness.
  • Provider training and decision support: Offer training programs for healthcare providers to effectively use AI and digital tools in patient care. Implement AI-driven clinical decision support systems that provide evidence-based recommendations for medication management and treatment plans.
  • Continuous improvement and feedback loops: Establish feedback loops with patients and healthcare providers to gather insights on the effectiveness of digital interventions and identify areas for improvement. Continuously update and refine digital tools and interventions based on real-world data and user feedback.

By integrating these strategies into healthcare systems, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of medical errors, improve patient outcomes and enhance the overall quality and safety of healthcare delivery.

How digitalization can help mitigate risks of medical errors and improve effectiveness


Solution: Electronic Health Records (EHRs)

Solution Impact: This reduces the risk of miscommunication and errors due to incomplete or inaccurate 
patient data.

Solution Recommendation: EHRs centralize patient information, making it accessible to authorized healthcare providers.

Solution: Remote Care

Solution Impact: Remote consultations and monitoring through remote care platforms. This not only increases accessibility to healthcare but also reduces the risk of errors associated with in-person visits, such as misdiagnoses or treatment delays.

Solution Recommendation: Enable continuous remote monitoring of patients, especially those with chronic conditions, to detect issues early and adjust treatment plans accordingly.

Solution: IoT for Real-time Monitoring

Solution Impact: Implement IoT-enabled wearable devices and sensors for continuous patient monitoring. These devices can track vital signs, glucose levels, medication adherence and more in real-time.

Solution Recommendation: Use IoT data to create early warning systems that alert healthcare providers to abnormal readings or patient non-compliance, 
allowing for timely intervention.

Solution: Clinical Decision Support Systems

Solution Impact: Utilize data analytics and AI to assist healthcare providers in making accurate and evidence-based decisions.

Solution Recommendation: They can recommend appropriate treatments and identify potential issues, reducing diagnostic and treatment errors.

Solution: Patient Portals

Solution Impact: Empower individuals to actively participate in their healthcare through digital patient portals.

Solution Recommendation: Patients can review their medical records, medications and lab results for accuracy, and report any discrepancies to their healthcare providers.

Solution: Medication Adherence Solutions

Solution Impact: Develop medication adherence apps and platforms that provide patients with reminders, educational content and personalized medication schedules.

Solution Recommendation: Incorporate IoT-connected pill dispensers that track medication usage and send adherence data to both patients and healthcare providers.

Solution: AI/ML for Diagnosis and Treatment

Solution Impact: Utilize AI algorithms to analyze medical images, lab results and patient histories for more accurate and timely diagnoses.

Solution Recommendation: Implement ML models that can predict patient-specific risks and recommend personalized treatment plans, reducing the likelihood of prescription errors.

Solution: Digital Therapeutics

Solution Impact: Incorporate digital therapeutics into treatment plans for chronic conditions. These therapeutic interventions can include mobile apps, wearables and software programs that provide evidence-based treatments and interventions.

Solution Recommendation: Monitor patient progress through digital therapeutics and adjust treatment plans in real-time based on patient responses and outcomes.

Solution: Predictive Analytics

Solution Impact: Utilize AI-driven predictive analytics to identify patients at higher risk of medical errors, such as those with complex medication regimens or comorbidities.

Solution Recommendation: Implement personalized care plans and interventions for high-risk patients to reduce the chances of medication errors or treatment complications.

Medical Devices

Solution: Connected Medical Devices

Solution Impact: Transmit real-time data, through IoT-enabled medical devices, to healthcare providers, facilitating remote monitoring and early detection of issues.

Solution Recommendation: This connectivity enhances patient safety and reduces the risk of device-related errors.

Solution: Barcode Medication Administration (BCMA)

Solution Impact: Use barcodes to verify medications, helping ensure that patients receive the correct drugs and dosages.

Solution Recommendation: These systems significantly reduce medication errors in healthcare settings.

Solution: Quality Control and Maintenance

Solution Impact: Automate, through digital tools, quality control checks and maintenance schedules for medical devices.

Solution Recommendation: This reduces the risk of device malfunctions due to human error and ensures proper use and maintenance of medical devices to reduce errors. It's essential that users understand the devices they are using thoroughly.


Solution: Drug Safety Monitoring

Solution Impact: Track adverse drug reactions and safety data in real-time through digitalization.

Solution Recommendation: This proactive approach allows pharmaceutical companies to identify potential risks and take corrective actions promptly.

Solution: Supply Chain Transparency

Solution Impact: Enhance transparency, through blockchain, in pharmaceutical supply chains, reducing the risk of counterfeit medications entering the market.

Solution Recommendation: This allows patients to have greater confidence in the authenticity and safety of their medications.

Solution: Clinical Trials

Solution Impact: Streamline the management of clinical trials through digital, helping ensure data integrity and adherence to protocols.

Solution Recommendation: This reduces errors in the research and development phases of pharmaceutical products.

Solution: Interoperability

Solution Impact: Protect patient data with stringent and robust cybersecurity measures, especially as more healthcare processes become digital.

Solution Recommendation: Standardized data formats and interfaces are essential.

Solution: Data Security

Solution Impact: Strive for greater interoperability to help ensure seamless data sharing and communication.

Solution Recommendation: Regular security audits and training are necessary to safeguard against data breaches.

Solution: Regulatory Adaptation

Solution Impact: Adhere to clear regulatory guidelines and standards for digital healthcare, medical devices and pharmaceuticals.

Solution Recommendation: This helps ensure patient safety and product efficacy.

Solution: Education and Training

Solution Impact: Build comprehensive training on digital tools and systems.

Solution Recommendation: When used effectively, these tools can prevent critical medical errors.

Solution: Patient Education

Solution Impact: Educate patients and caregivers on how to use digital tools and portals effectively and securely.

Solution Recommendation: A patient’s active participation is vital in reducing medical errors.

In conclusion

Mitigating medical errors necessitates a collective and proactive approach. The outlined strategies, encompassing education, standardized protocols, patient involvement and digitalization, offer a comprehensive roadmap for systemic improvement. The integration of technologies such as EHRs, remote care platforms and AI, including private large language models (LLMs) and generative AI, presents transformative opportunities to create a culture of continuous improvement and technological innovation.

Download: "Prescription for Safer Healthcare: Strategies to Mitigate Medical Errors" Whitepaper here.

Associate Director, Healthcare & Life Sciences 
HARMAN Digital Transformation Solutions

Head of Quality 
Leading Multi-speciality Hospital in India