The report was published in the May print issue of Pediatrics.
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said that "when you are caught in the middle of the chaos and sadness of a sick child, it's not uncommon to see significant mistakes made when [parents are] giving medications to their children."
Many of the parents in the study were college educated, but no matter how well-educated the parents there are still many gaps in understanding how to administer chemotherapy at home, he said.
Lichtenfeld noted that these errors weren't always the parent's fault. "There were discrepancies between the labels on the drug and what the parents were supposed to do," he said. It's possible that the doctor changed the dose, but it was not reflected in the label from the pharmacy. This problem could be solved by better labeling, he added.
To gauge the scope of medical errors, Walsh's team visited the homes of 92 children with cancer and watched 242 medications being given. In addition, the team reviewed 963 prescriptions for the correct drug and dose.
In all, they found 72 medication errors, four of which were harmful to the child and 40 more that could have been harmful.
Two errors were classified as life-threatening, 13 as serious and 25 as significant errors. Most of the errors were for non-chemotherapy drugs, the researchers noted.
Another expert, Dr. Maggie Eidson, a pediatric oncologist at Miami Children's Hospital, said that "the fact that there are errors isn't surprising. It reminds us we need to give parents good tools to keep their dosing regimens clear and help parents to manage things at home better."
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