Illinois researchers use nanotechnology to curb IV drug errors

Hospital patients who have been given an incorrect medication dosage or a wrong drug can die. Since many Chicago patients are admitted to hospitals with serious health conditions, hospital staff members may mistake a medication error for a symptom of illness.

University of Illinois researchers believe they have come up with a detection system to prevent hospitals from administering an incorrect drug or dosage intravenously. An electrical and engineering-tech team from the Urbana-Champaign campus has designed an optical system that would immediately “read” the drugs inserted in an IV tube, preventing drug errors that the project head said represents more than 60 percent of all deadly hospital mistakes.

Current IV systems have the capability of introducing intravenous drugs into a patient’s body in precise proportions. The systems fail to detect whether the correct dosage, drug or combination of prescriptions is being administered. The new device, which would correct system flaws, will be presented to colleagues later this month at the yearly meeting of The Optical Society.

The university team used nanotechnology to develop a way for an IV drug delivery system to identify a list of commonly-used hospital medications in real time. The researchers’ work took them to a level between microscopic and molecular size.

Using an analytical tool called Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering or SERS, the team tapped into chemical identifiers using lights scattered from molecules – a drug reader. The results were compared to unique molecular “signatures” in various drugs.

The new system is sensitive enough to detect tiny quantities of drugs or two medications used together. Researchers are making efforts to expand the system’s effectiveness to identify up to 10 drugs at once. The team also claims production of the drug identifier is cost-effective.

IV drug identification systems can help hospitals prevent patient injuries and deaths. Unfortunately, IVs aren’t the only way patients are harmed by drug mistakes. As long as humans caregivers are involved, the potential for negligence remains high.

Source:, “Recognizing Fluid in an IV in Real-Time” No author given, Sep. 30, 2013

Medication Errors


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