Prescribing errors by junior doctors- A comparison of errors with high risk medicines and non-high risk medicines

Mahdi A. Alanazi, Mary P. Tully, Penny J. Lewis, Melissa T. Baysari (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prescribing errors in hospital are common. However, errors with high-risk-medicines (HRMs) have a greater propensity to cause harm compared to non-HRMs. We do not know if there are differences between the causes of errors with HRMs and non-HRMs but such knowledge might be useful in developing interventions to reduce errors and avoidable harm. Therefore, this study aims to compare and contrast junior doctors’ prescribing errors with HRMs to non-HRMs to establish any differences.

A secondary analysis of fifty-nine interviews with foundation year doctors, obtained from three studies, was conducted. Using a Framework Analysis approach, through NVivo software, a detailed comparison was conducted between the unsafe acts, error-causing-conditions (ECCs), latent conditions, and types of errors related to prescribing errors with HRMs and non-HRMs.

In relation to unsafe acts, violations were described in the data with non-HRMs only. Differences in ECCs of HRMs and non-HRMs were identified and related to the complexity of prescribing HRMs, especially dosage calculations. There were also differences in the circumstances of communication failures: with HRMs ineffective communication arose with exchanges with individuals outside the immediate medical team while with non-HRMs these failures occurred with exchanges within that team. Differences were identified with the latent conditions: with non-HRMs there was a reluctance to seek seniors help and with HRMs latent conditions related to the organisational system such as the inclusion of trade names in hospital formularies. Moreover, prescribing during the on-call period was particularly challenging especially with HRMs.

From this secondary analysis, differences in the nature and type of prescribing errors with HRMs and non-HRMs were identified, although further research is needed to investigate their prevalence. As errors with HRMs have the potential to cause great harm it may be appropriate to target limited resources towards interventions that tackle the underlying causes of such errors. Equally concerning, however, was the sense that doctors regard the prescribing of non-HRMs as ‘safe’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0211270
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Early online date31 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Prescribing errors by junior doctors- A comparison of errors with high risk medicines and non-high risk medicines'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this