Medical malpractice is a far-reaching epidemic that affects every level of the healthcare industry. More people die as a result of preventable medical errors than from AIDS, drug overdoses, and even automobile crashes. Medication errors is just one piece of the medical malpractice pie.
Medical negligence due to human error is the primary cause of wrongly prescribed medications. A single moment of carelessness on the part of healthcare providers and pharmacists who prescribe, dispense, and administer medication can result in patient illness, disability, and even death. Each year, upwards of 1.5 million people are victims of medication errors in the United States alone.
Medication errors are a burdensome expense for healthcare providers and patients alike; they result in longer hospital stays and costlier outpatient services, and they require additional complex treatments.
Common Causes of Medication Errors
Medication errors can happen for any number of reasons. The most common are:
Prescribing the Wrong Dose – Occasionally, a healthcare provider or pharmacist may transcribe a wrong number or simply misplace a decimal point when issuing a prescription. For example, a doctor might prescribe 200 milligrams of a drug when the correct dose is 20. A patient may receive too much or too little, too early or too late. Doctors are notorious for their poor handwriting and it’s not unheard of for a pharmacist to misquote a prescription when dispensing it to a patient. High-alert medications (HAMs) have the potential to cause the most harm; an incremental change in the dosage of an HAM can result in critical injury or death. Interestingly, the primary drug-class categories of HAMs are anticoagulants, sedatives, insulins, and opioids, all of which are commonly prescribed medications.
Prescribing the Wrong Medication – This happens more often than one might expect, and with disastrous results. In some cases, the condition itself may be totally misdiagnosed, resulting in a medication that not only fails to heal the patient’s actual condition, but exacerbates it or even causes a far more injurious one.
Medication Interactions – Prescribing medications that interact dangerously with other conditions the patient may have or drugs he or she may already be taking. It is the doctor’s responsibility to be aware of a patient’s pre-existing conditions, such as allergies or diabetes, and of any medications that the patient is currently on. Mixing medications that are antagonistic to one another, or prescribing a medication that will actually do more harm than good, can result in further deterioration of health. To make this less likely, it is recommended that a patient remain with one pharmacy over time instead of utilizing the services of many. By frequenting a single pharmacy, a patient will have all of his or her most up-to-date records in one place as well as the meticulous care of a pharmacist who is well-versed in the patient’s needs.
Mislabeling the Medication – This can occur anywhere along the healthcare provider chain of distribution and command. Medication labeling begins with the manufacturer and extends to the retailer and pharmacist. If the pharmaceutical company makes the mistake, a products-liability lawsuit can be filed. If it is the pharmacy that does the mislabeling, it’s considered medical malpractice. Medication labels can be bewildering to the unschooled patient; patients rely on nurses and pharmacists to thoroughly instruct them on how to take their prescription drugs. Not surprisingly, incomplete or confusing drug labeling causes nearly one third of all medication-error deaths.
Incorrectly Administering the Medication – Different medications are taken in a variety of ways. A nurse or home-care provider may fail to administer a shot or injection properly or at the appropriate time. Sometimes, even if the prescription is labeled correctly, the wrong amount may be given. This can result from a health care professional’s frayed concentration due to stress or overwork, distractions, or just plain forgetfulness. In some cases, the person administering the drug may not even be adequately trained.
Poor Communication of Side Effects – Patients are not always warned of the potential side effects when a medication is taken in conjunction with a certain food or drink. If the healthcare provider doesn’t alert the patient as to what can happen when a prescription drug is taken under the wrong conditions, he or she is liable for any adverse response the patient may have. This information can be easily overlooked by a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist, especially if they are rushing to get to the next patient.
An Equipment Malfunction. This is particularly common with intravenous drips, which operate automatically. An equipment malfunction can cause medication to be administered to a patient in larger doses over a shorter period of time than is safe.
Who Is Responsible for Most Medication Errors?
Who is responsible for the substantial increase in medication errors today? Unfortunately, doctors, nurses, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, retailers, pharmacists, and even home caregivers are all capable of making a wide range of serious medication errors that can result in significant losses for patients and their loved ones. More often than not, healthcare providers remain unaware of their mistakes.
Medication errors happen not only in hospitals, but in nursing homes, hospices, and outpatient services across the country.
The good news is, The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority released an annual report that states high harm events in Pennsylvania healthcare facilities have gone down 45% from 2005 to 2014. These events include any situation in a healthcare facility that may have caused harm or death to a patient, and many of these are medication errors.
What To Do If It’s Medical Malpractice
Whatever the source of the medication error may be, it is recommended that you consult a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. If you have reason to believe that either you or someone you love has been a victim of a medication error, the experienced attorneys at Donaghue & Labrum are here to help. Please contact us for a free consultation.