Medication errors occur when a person is prescribed or administered the wrong medication for their condition. Any preventable event that may lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of a healthcare professional, patient, or consumer is considered a medication error.
These errors can include:
- Prescribing the wrong type of medicine
- Prescribing the wrong amount of a drug
- Errors in the instructions on how the patient should take the medicine
- Prescribing medicine that is illegal, expired, defective, or recalled
- Prescribing medication to the wrong patient
- Other types of errors
Medication and pharmacy errors are the subjects of large numbers of medical malpractice cases filed each year.
Medication errors occur throughout the healthcare industry. Errors occur when prescribing drugs, entering information into computer systems, when the drug is prepared or dispensed, or when a patient takes the drug.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) receives more than 100,000 medication error reports each year. The FDA reviews the reports to determine the cause and type of error. Reports may come from drug manufacturers, healthcare professionals, and consumers.
Harmful results of medication errors may include:
- Life-threatening injuries
- Birth defects
Who Can Be Held Liable for a Medication Error?
Medication errors are often based on negligence theories. Most medication errors are not intentional. The medical professional must first owe a duty of care to the patient to be held liable. The medical professional must have breached this duty of care, and the breach must be the cause of actual and measurable injuries or losses to the patient.
Those who can usually be held liable for medication errors include:
- Persons who work at a care home
- Persons who provide in-home care at the patient’s house
What Are Some Common Medication Error Injuries?
Some common medication error injuries include vomiting, nausea, swelling, and other allergic reactions. A person may have difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, or other serious symptoms in other cases. Some medication errors can lead to permanent injury or even death. It is important to make sure that you have the proper medication before taking it or before administering it.
Legal remedies for medication error or prescription error injuries can include damages to reimburse the person for losses caused by the injuries. Some legal cases may involve wrongful death actions or other related legal issues.
How Can Medication Errors Be Reduced?
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of medication error is to take an active role in your health care. Research the medications you take. Learn about any possible side effects. Do not hesitate to ask questions or share any concerns with your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care provider.
Knowledge is your best defense. If you don’t fully understand something your doctor says, ask them for an explanation. Whenever you start a new medication, make sure you know the following information:
- What is the brand name or generic name of the medication?
- What does the medication do? How long after taking it will I see results?
- What is the proper dosage?
- How long should I take the medication?
- What should I do if I miss a dose?
- What should I do if I accidentally take more than the recommended dose?
- Are there any foods, drinks, or other medications I should avoid while taking the medicine?
- Are there any activities such as high-intensity exercise that I should avoid while taking this medication??
- What are the possible side effects? What should I do if I experience a side effect?
- Will this medication interfere with any of my other medications? How?
Your doctor can help prevent medication errors by using a computer program to enter any prescription details, instead of hand writing them.
How Can I Participate in Medication Reconciliation?
Asking questions is essential to understanding the role of medications on your health. Your health care provider can follow a process called medication reconciliation to significantly decrease your risk of medication errors.
Medication reconciliation is a safety strategy that involves comparing the list of medications your health care provider currently has with the list of medications you currently take. By comparing medications, you avoid errors such as:
- Missing medications
- Duplicating medications
- Dosing errors
- Harmful drug interactions
Medication reconciliation should be done every time you transition to a new health care provider or any time a new medication is ordered. Transitions in care include changes in setting, such as being admitted or discharged from the hospital, or changing health care providers.
Share your most up-to-date information with your current health care provider to give the clearest picture of your condition and help avoid medication mistakes.
You should tell your healthcare provider:
- The name and dosage of all medications you’re taking and when you take them. This includes all prescription medications, herbs, vitamins, nutritional supplements, over-the-counter drugs, and vaccines.
- Any medications that you’re allergic to or that have caused problems for you in the past
- Whether you have any chronic or serious health conditions
- If you are pregnant or might become pregnant
What Are Some Commonly Avoidable Mistakes?
The following medications errors are common. Avoid:
- Confusing eardrops for eyedrops: Always double-check the label. If a medication says “otic,” it’s for your ears. If a medication says “ophthalmic,” it’s for your eyes.
- Chewing non-chewable medication: Don’t assume that chewing a pill is the same as swallowing it. Some medications should not be chewed, cut, or crushed up. Doing so may change how the medication is absorbed by your body.
- Cutting up pills: Don’t split a pill unless your doctor or pharmacist has told you it’s safe to do so. Some medications shouldn’t be cut because they’re specially coated to be long-lasting or to protect your stomach lining.
- Using the wrong measurement: The spoons in your silverware drawer aren’t the same as measuring spoons. To get accurate doses, use an oral syringe, a dosage cup, or a measuring spoon.
How Can I Make Medication Safety a Habit?
Make medication safety a habit. Consider using the following tips:
- Keep an up-to-date list of all your medications, including supplements and over-the-counter drugs.
- Store medications in their original containers
- Keep your medications organized. Consider using a pillbox or automatic pill dispenser
- Save the information sheets that come with your medications
- Use the same pharmacy, if possible, for the majority of your prescriptions
- When you pick up a prescription, double check that it’s the one your doctor ordered
- Don’t give your prescription medication to someone else
- Don’t take someone else’s medication
Don’t hesitate to ask questions or to tell your health care providers if anything feels wrong. Remember, medication errors affect you directly. If you have problems with your medication, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. If you still have problems, consider reporting the event or hiring a personal injury lawyer.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Medication Error Lawsuit?
Medication errors may involve complex legal concepts and regulations. You may consider hiring a personal injury lawyer if you have been subject to a medication error and need to file a lawsuit. An attorney can provide you with advice on proceeding with your case. Also, an attorney will represent you during court hearings and meetings.