Medication Errors

As the American population continues to age, more and more people rely on prescription drugs to treat many different medical conditions. As the number of people using prescription drugs rises, so does the number of people who are harmed or killed by medication errors. Unfortunately, medical professionals are human, just like the rest of us, and may make mistakes when labeling and administering prescription drugs. While it is human to make mistakes, it is unacceptable to diminish someone’s quality of life due to a medication error. If you or someone you love has been the victim of medication error, you’re entitled to compensation.

Why do medication errors happen?

Inadequate training – In some situations, both pharmacy and medical staff may not have extensive training, but are still expected to perform a job that requires that training. For example, many store clerks that work behind a pharmacy counter don’t have technical pharmaceutical training, but are expected to quickly identify patient medications, and deliver them to the customer. In these situations, it’s possible for errors to occur. The same goes for some rehab or nursing facilities, where staff with minimal training are hired to care for residents. Sometimes these individuals are not certified nurses, but may administer medication, and mistakes can occur.

Poor communication – Pharmacists and doctors are too busy most times to speak directly to each other. In most situations, when a doctor orders a prescription, it could go through multiple people before it gets to the pharmacist. The doctor’s receptionist may relay the prescription to the pharmacist clerk, who will finally relay the prescription to the pharmacist to be filled. When communication has to go through this many people, mistakes can happen, sometimes ending with disastrous results.

Overworked staff – Pharmacists and nurses work impossible shifts, usually averaging about a 12 hour shift with very few breaks. Pharmacists may have to fill as many as 300-450 prescriptions each day, and a nurse may be responsible for an entire floor of patients. With that much work to do, both parties are extremely busy, for an extended amount of time, which can lead to accidents. A pharmacist may accidentally fill the wrong prescription, and a nurse may improperly administer a medication. With the high amount of demand that both have to deal with, accidents are more and more likely to happen, causing what can be very dangerous medication errors.

Pharmacist negligence – Pharmacists are supposed to advise patients about their medications, even if they’ve already been prescribed them by the doctor. A pharmacist will generally ask about other current medications, and warn you of potential side effects and possible drug allergies. Unfortunately, pharmacists today are very busy, and oftentimes the job of delivering physical medications to patients falls on the shoulders of pharmacist technicians. Technicians have considerably less training, and if they’re not being properly supervised by the pharmacist, accidents could happen, or a technician may fail to warn you about pertinent issues, which could lead to a medication error that threatens your life or well-being.

Automated system dependency – Our world is increasingly electronic. We rely on computers for a great many things in our daily life, and while they do minimize errors, they’re not totally perfect, especially since they are managed by humans. A nurse could accidentally place a decimal point in the wrong spot on the computer, resulting in either a significant underdose or overdose. Additionally, it can be difficult for some older patients to make sense of an electronic automated system, which can result in a prescription being filled late. While computers do make our lives easier, complete reliance on them can lead to errors.

What are the most common medication errors?

Administering the wrong medication
With floors and floors of patients and extended shifts, nurses and doctors can give the wrong medication to a patient surprisingly easily. What’s more, many medications have multiple names: a scientific name, and a common name, which can make the medication administration process confusing, especially when multiple drugs have very similar names.

Mislabeling the medication
It is possible for medications to be mislabeled, either at the manufacturing plant, or at the pharmacy. When a medication is mislabeled, the patient will receive either the wrong prescription, or the wrong dosage, which can result in very dangerous situations. Were it the fault of the manufacturer, you could plausibly file a products liability lawsuit, whereas if the medication was mislabeled by the pharmacist, it could result in a medical malpractice case. In either situation, you could file for proper compensation with an experienced attorney.

Administering the wrong dosage
Just as it is frighteningly easy for patients to receive the wrong medication, it is just as possible to receive the wrong dosage. Decimal points can accidentally be transposed, or the medication could simply be administered improperly. Many medications have to be administered in a specific fashion, whether it is a shot to the muscle, directly to the bloodstream, or alternatively if it is taken as a pill. With all of these administration variations, it’s easy to make a mistake, but any mistake could be fatal.

Medication interaction or allergy
While it is technically the job of your pharmacist to keep track of all of your current medications, and medication allergies, your doctor should also double check with you before prescribing a prescription. Some medications interact with each other negatively, which can even be fatal if not caught in time. Conversely, you may be allergic to some medications, and your pharmacist should know not to prescribe you any medication that may cause a dangerous allergic reaction.

Failure to warn of side effects
Most medications do have side effects, and although they aren’t all very serious, it’s your pharmacist and your doctor or nurse’s job to warn you of possible issues that might arise. Some medications don’t work if you eat certain foods or drinks, and some can pose side effects that could worsen a pre-existing condition. If your doctor doesn’t say anything regarding possible side effects, you should always make sure to ask, and then double check with your pharmacist when you go to pick up your prescription.

How can you avoid medication errors?

Medication errors are a scary thing. You’re not a doctor or a pharmacist, so you only know what you’re told, and you don’t have a real way of knowing if you’re getting the right prescription, or if your prescription is being administered properly. It’s important to make sure you’re taking all precautions to ensure that you’re receiving the right medication, and one that won’t negatively affect you in conjunction with other medications you’re taking. So how can you avoid medication errors?

Keep a list of all medications you’re taking

The more information you can provide about what you’re taking, and how much, the better. Keep a list of all the medications you’re on, and make sure you bring it with you any time you see a health care provider. If you have a smartphone, it might be a good idea to keep it in your notes section, or to take a picture of your list so that you always have it handy. Some things to include:

  • Names of all medications, including over the counter drugs and herbal supplements. Don’t forget any eye/ear drops, or ointments. Medications are not limited to pills.
  • How much you take of each medication.
  • How often you take each medication.
  • What form each medication is in: pill, liquid, cream, inhaler, etc.
  • What you’re taking each medication for.

Talk to your doctor before agreeing to any prescription:

  • Make sure your doctor has seen your medication list.
  • Tell your doctor about any pre-existing conditions you may have.
  • Alert him or her to any allergies you have, or any medications that have caused you to have an allergic reaction.
  • Ask your doctor to explain in detail any directions for the medication they’re prescribing: this includes how to take the medication, how often to take the medication, how to store it, and any other special instructions.

Talk to the person administering your medication:

If you’re in the hospital or a health care facility, make sure that the person administering your medication is giving you the right dosage and medication. You’ll also want to ensure that they are administering it properly. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Ask for the name and dosage of the medication you’re about to receive.
  • Ask why you’re being given the medication or what the medication is supposed to help with.
  • If something seems different, ask about it. If you got a shot in the arm last time, that might be where you should get it this time.
  • If for any reason something seems like it’s not right, ask to talk to the doctor who ordered the medicine before proceeding.

What to do if you’re a victim of medication error

If you’re a victim of medication error, you should first seek medical help immediately. Your health and well-being come first and foremost, and medication error is not an issue to take lightly. If you suspect you’ve been given the wrong medication, or if you’re experiencing adverse effects, you should talk to a medical professional right away.

If you’ve been injured due to a medication error, you have the right to take civil action against the guilty party. This may be the doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or possibly even the medication manufacturer. To be entitled to receive compensation, you will have to prove several legal elements:

  • The guilty party had a duty of care not to injure you. (This is assumed in most cases)
  • The guilty party breached that duty of care. Generally referred to as negligence, either the pharmacist delivered the wrong prescription, or the person who administered the medication did so improperly by using the wrong medication, dosage, or method.
  • That negligence was the direct and immediate cause of your injury or harm.
  • As a result of the negligence you were injured or underwent extreme, unnecessary mental duress.
  • Your injury resulted in damages that need to be compensated for, such as hospital bills, lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses, and even pain and suffering.

It’s important that you hold onto the prescription bottle, your receipt, and the package the prescription came in, so that you can provide proof of the error. It’s also a good idea to get the name of all parties involved, including the pharmacist, the doctor, or the person who administered the medication to you.

If your injury was more serious than 12-24 hours of discomfort or pain due to vomiting, nausea, or dizziness, or if you were admitted to the hospital because of your symptoms, you should seek counsel from an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

The legal process can be long and confusing, and to ensure that you receive proper compensation, it’s in your best interest to find an attorney who can help guide you through your claim. They will be able to help you fill out legal paperwork, meet certain deadlines, and navigate court hearings. They will also let you know what information you need to have, and what amount of compensation you’re likely to claim.

If you’ve been the victim of medication error, call the experienced attorneys at the Epstein Law Firm today! With decades of experience in medical malpractice, we can get you the compensation you deserve. For a free initial case evaluation, call our office at 773-522-7000, or contact us online immediately.

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