Medication Errors: Don’t Let Them Happen to You

Medication errors like happen frequently. According to the well respected 2006 report “Preventing Medication Errors” from the Institute of Medicine, medication errors injure 1.5 million Americans each year and cost $3.5 billion in lost productivity, wages, and additional medical expenses.

We have all seen that almost yearly there is an announcement of some new wonder drug to treat a condition or disease. We have all seen the drug commercial and the all important disclaimer. No drug or medication is without some adverse risk or reaction. The increase in the number of drugs available and in the number of drugs the average person takes has led to an explosion in the number of errors made in prescriptions.

These errors can take all kinds of forms and can occur in many different ways. Sometimes a drug other than the one prescribed is provided, or the correct drug is provided in the wrong dosage. Sometimes a drug is prescribed that interacts negatively with another drug the person is taking and the patient is not warned of the danger. Sometimes the mistake is made by the doctor prescribing the drug, sometimes by the pharmacist filling the prescription, sometimes by the person administering the prescribed drug. Mistakes can occur in hospitals, nursing homes, and the corner drugstore. Regardless of the many different ways that prescription problems can occur, they all share one thing: They can be serious and potentially deadly.

In 2008 it was estimated by researchers that preventable adverse drug events kill 7,000 Americans annually. The researchers also concluded that medication errors that result in harm are the number-one cause of inpatient fatalities. Experts believe at least one medication error occurs per hospital patient every day. However, error rates vary widely among facilities. It has been found that medication errors pose the greatest risks and consequences in critical care settings, the reason for this is that usually patients in such settings are quite ill and do not have the resilience to respond adequately to an adverse event. Further, critical care patients often receive twice as many medications as patients on general floors. It is estimated that some 20% of critical care medication errors are potentially life-threatening, and half of these medical errors necessitate
additional life-sustaining treatments.

A undercover investigation televised by ABC News in 2007 reported on errors committed at pharmacies in the United States. The report, Pharmacy Errors: Unreported Epidemic?, drew attention to a the dangers associated with the proliferation of dispensing errors. The ABC News report showed the devastating consequences that are possible when medication errors are made. The ABC News Reported implied that overworked healthcare providers (pharmacists) are prone to making medical mistakes.

In a poll conducted by the National Patient Safety Foundation, 42% of respondents had been affected by a medical error, either personally or through a friend or relative, and 32% indicated that the error had a permanent negative effect on the patient’s health. See Medical Errors: The Scope of the Problem. Fact sheet. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2000. Publication No. AHRQ 00-P037. www.ahrq.gov/qual/errback.htm.

According to The Quality of Health Care in America Project, established by the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine (IOM), errors committed within the health care system have significant impact on patient safety and health care costs.

Some experts in the health industry consider the primary reason for the rise in medication errors to be financial—the doctors who write the prescriptions, the pharmacists who fill them, and the nurses who often administer them are pressured to serve more patients in less time, increasing profits, but also increasing the risk of an error. Others experts feel that the alarming rise in the marketing of drugs directly to patients is partially responsible. The advertisements are directed to a diverse audience, i.e. patients. It has been found that patients that see or read these advertisements are more likely to go to their doctors and demand a prescription for some drug they read about in a magazine ad or saw on television. Such patient driven requests leads to more prescriptions being written and greater chances for error.

A recent study concluded that out of 3 billion prescriptions filled each year, 51.5 million of them contain some kind of error. Although reliable statistics are hard to come by, these errors lead to thousands of unnecessary hospitalizations and hundreds of unnecessary deaths

Many factors can lead to medication errors. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) has identified 10 key elements with the greatest influence on medication use, noting that weaknesses in these can lead to medication errors. They are patient information, drug information, adequate communication, drug packaging, labeling, and nomenclature, medication storage, stock, standardization, and distribution, drug device acquisition, use, and monitoring, environmental factors, staff education and competency, patient education, quality processes and risk management.

Solutions to this medication error problem have been suggested. The first is also the easiest, healthcare providers should slow down and make sure the prescription is correct for the patient. Another is to install more safeguards, such as flagging a patient’s file if they are allergic to a particular medication. Another is for pharmacists to check that the prescription they are filling is appropriate some prescriptions are virtually illegible and the pharmacist is guessing. Another solution is to make sure that different drugs or different dosages don’t look similar, reducing the chance that the wrong medication will be given to or used by a patient.

Cases involving prescription errors and medication errors can involve claims of negligence, medical malpractice, and products liability, these are complex areas of the law. In my practice I have handled claims involving prescription errors and medication errors of all types. Some leading to death and serious injury. If you or someone you know has been injured or killed possibly because of a prescription error and/or medication errors please contact give me a call. Contact Richard M. Katz, Esq. at 626-796-6333 so that my office can help protect your legal rights. Visit us at our website at http://www.lawyer-personal-injury-law.com

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