Preventing Serious Medication Mistakes That Happen at Home

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Preventable, serious medication errors that occur at home are on the rise in the United States.

A new study that reviewed calls to poison control centers across the country found the rate of drug mistakes made outside of healthcare facilities – largely at home – doubled between 2000 and 2012.  These type of medication errors included taking the wrong medicine as well as taking the wrong dose of the correct drug.

The researchers found that a large portion of these medical errors were severe, with a third resulting in hospitalization.  A smaller percentage of the errors were fatal.  All totaled, there were an average of 5,200 serious medication mistakes outside of healthcare facilities each year.

Fatal Errors with Cardiovascular Drugs

The group of medicines that treat heart diseased experienced a 177 percent rate increase of in-home mistakes. Almost 20 percent of all the drug errors in this study were linked to cardiovascular treatment.  Half of patients experiencing errors with these drugs required hospitalization.  And 30 percent of fatal drug errors identified in the study were linked to this group of medications.

Prescription painkillers had the second highest number of hospital admissions due to error.  A third of the in-home errors from these drugs involved opioids.  But higher still, at 44 percent, were serious mistakes involving over-the-counter acetaminophen-based medications.

The number of mistakes with drugs that treat diabetes jumped 345 percent over the study’s 13-year period.  The authors speculate this could be due to a similar rise in patients with the disease.

Drug mistakes were broken out by patient age, including the category of kids under the age of six years.  The second leading cause of serious medication errors these children suffered was attributed to mistakes made by physicians, nurses and pharmacists.

What Can Be Done to Stop Medication Mistakes

The study notes that most of the serious medication errors were preventable, and provides some solutions:

·         Better drug packaging and labeling, as well as clearer dosage instructions

·         Prescription drug monitoring (Missouri recently became the last U.S. state to adopt a statewide monitoring program)

·         Better physician and caregiver education

The authors also suggest that patients and their families write down when medications are taken, and in what dosage, to prevent potentially dangerous and unnecessary repeat doses.

Other studies have shown how easily preventable serious drug errors can be.  One recent effort from John Hopkins University pinpointed sloppy handwritten prescriptions as a leading cause of errors involving opioids.  It found that nine out of every 10 written opioid prescriptions failed to meet federal prescription rules, omitted needed patient information, or generally did not meet industry standards in some other form.

So while patients and their families should take extra precautions when taking or administering medications at home, healthcare providers often bear the responsibility when serious medication mistakes occur.

If you had a family member die from what you suspect was an error with medication or some other type of medical mistake, consult a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your concerns.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles July 27, 2017

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