What is a Prescription Drug Error?
Many of Americans rely on one or more prescription medications on a daily basis to control chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or on a temporary basis to treat illness or other medical disorders.
While the right medication can improve health and cure many ills, the wrong medication can have the opposite effect, resulting in serious complications, illness or death.
Medication errors are more common than many people think. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), medication errors cause at least one death every day and injure approximately 1.3 million people annually in the United States.
These mistakes can happen anywhere in the process; from the time the medication is prescribed to the monitoring that should take place after a drug has been administered and at any point in between, including repackaging and dispensing.
Some of these errors are caused by poor communication, ambiguous or unclear product names, misunderstood abbreviations or imprecise directions regarding how much medication should be taken each day and when. Any of these issues can also cause a patient to misuse the drug after it has been dispensed.
Medication mistakes can lead to serious consequences if a patient goes without necessary medication or suffers from side effects or adverse reactions caused by unintended medications or incorrect dosing. Therefore, patients and medical practitioners have to be vigilant whenever medications are part of a treatment plan.
Common Medication Errors
Medication errors can be caused by negligence on the part of any medical practitioner or facility that is part of the process; including the hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility, physician, nurse, medical assistant, pharmacy personnel or pharmaceutical manufacturers.
While there are many kinds of prescription drug errors, the following are among the most common:
- Failing to take a thorough patient history that includes prescription drug use and reactions or side effects
Without knowledge of a patient’s medical history, especially where prescription drugs are concerned, a physician might prescribe drugs the patient is allergic to, or medications that do not interact well with others the patient is taking. Some medications should not be prescribed for patients who have certain conditions, such as depression or high blood pressure. A complete medical history helps a doctor avoid prescribing drugs that could be harmful.
- Administering the wrong medication
A mislabeled bottle or package of medication can cause the wrong drug to be administered. This can also happen because of an illegible prescription, or a careless mistake by an overworked nurse or pharmacist.
- Administering the wrong dosage of a prescribed medication
A misplaced decimal point or incorrectly transposed number can result in a patient receiving too much or too little medication, which can have serious or deadly consequences.
- Mislabeling a bottle or package containing medication
This can happen while the medication is still on the manufacturer’s premises, or a medication can be mislabeled at the pharmacy. In any case, a mislabeled package or bottle will undoubtedly result in the patient receiving the wrong medication and/or the wrong dosage.
- Prescribing a medication that the patient is allergic to or has had side effects from in the past
Failing to take a complete medical history could result in this situation. It could also happen if a doctor fails to thoroughly read a patient’s chart or history before prescribing medication.
- Improper administration of an injection
Different medications have different protocols for administering them. Some drugs must be injected into a muscle while others go directly into the bloodstream. A nurse or doctor must make sure they are injecting the correct dosage of the right medication in the prescribed manner.
- Prescribing a medication that interacts negatively with other medications that the patient is taking
A thorough medical history will help a doctor avoid prescribing medications that do not interact well with other drugs the patient is taking. It is also helpful for patients to use a pharmacy that has a system to keep track of their medication history.
- Failing to warn the patient of the common side effects of the medication
Physicians and pharmacists should tell patients about the common side effects of the medications they are prescribing or dispensing. This includes providing instructions on foods that should be avoided, or whether a medicine needs to be taken with food or in the morning instead of at bedtime to prevent fatigue.
- Illegible prescriptions
Despite the recurring jokes about the illegibility of doctors’ handwriting, an unreadable prescription could lead to a disastrous outcome. If a patient becomes ill because an illegible prescription caused the wrong medication or incorrect dosage to be administered, the prescriber or the pharmacy could be liable.
Causes of Medication Errors
There are numerous causes of medication errors, depending on the situation. Common pharmacy errors include:
- Faulty communication, oral or written
- Inadequate staffing in pharmacies, physicians’ offices or hospitals
- Overworked or fatigued personnel
- Lack of training
- Inadequate checks and balances in a facility’s medication prescribing and dispensing system
Determining liability when an error is made can sometimes require a thorough investigation to identify when and where the error occurred and which staff members or facilities were involved. Sometimes multiple parties may have played a part in the mistake. For example, if a medication that was mislabeled in the pharmacy is then administered to a patient by a nurse who fails to notice that the medication is not indicated in the patient’s chart, personnel from the pharmacy and the nursing staff may both be liable.
Malpractice Claims for Medication Errors
Winning a medical malpractice lawsuit for a prescription drug error requires that certain factors are established by the plaintiff. There must be a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the medical practitioner and the harm suffered by the patient. The mistake must also have caused damages, which can be emotional, physical, financial or a combination. Damages can include compensation for lost income, medical bills and pain and suffering. The plaintiff must also prove that the medical professional(s) breached their standard duty of care by acting in a negligent or careless manner. Failing to take a thorough medical history or disregarding information about a patient’s drug allergies may constitute such a breach.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has suffered harm because of a pharmacy or medication error, contact us immediately for a free consultation.