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Bonnie Salsman with the Institute of Safe Medication Practices Canada says the reported rate of medication errors may not reflect the actual number because reporting is voluntary. ((CBC))

The Capital Health Authority is hopeful changes it's implementing will reduce the number of medication errors in its hospitals.

A recent survey by a national accreditation body found 15 areas that need improvement, including incidents where patients received the wrong drug or the wrong dose.

Among the changes Accreditation Canada is calling for — where and how high-risk drugs such as narcotics are stored and and a system where drug names and doses are double-checked before they are administered.

Roberta Baker, the clinical pharmacy manager at Capital Health, said many of the recommended changes have already been put into action.

"We're always continuously working to improve ourselves so that we can ensure that it is safe for our patients and our staff," said Baker.  

Accreditation Canada did highlight positives including the district's use of digital pictures to help distinguish the difference between look-a-like meds, but it also strongly recommended an external risk review at Dartmouth General for the way daily medications are doled out at the facility.

Capital Health said it tracks medication errors and outcomes, but a spokesperson said he wouldn't be able to provide CBC News with that information until Friday.

Bonnie Salsman, a consultant with the Institute of Safe Medication Practices Canada, said because incident reporting systems are voluntary, looking at the number of reports isn't always a good indicator of how many mistakes are being made.

"In fact, a low reported rate of error may not reflect a low rate of actual errors. It may reflect that staff or patients may not be comortable reporting that the incident had happened," said Salsman.

Salsman said medication errors are quite prevalent in Canada. One in 10 Canadians surveyed recently said they had experienced a medication error either when they were having a prescription filled at a pharmacy or while they were hospitalized.

Most of those mistakes aren't harmful, but in cases where insulin, narcotics and anticoagulents like heparin and warfarin are used, it's more likely harm will occur.

She said punishing staff for mistakes is not the best approach.

"It's far wiser when an error happens to get as much information as possible to understand that in many cases any individual could have made the same error and try to get at the real reasons why the error occurred," Salsman said.