Most Serious Medication Errors are Avoidable

Earlier this year the World Health Organization announced a new effort to cut medication errors in half in five years.  It seems like an ambitious goal.  But in reality it may not be, as practically all serious drug errors are preventable.

The focus of WHO’s efforts to eradicate this serious medical mistake are global, but drug errors are all too frequent and catastrophic in this country. It’s been estimated that one patient dies from a medication error each day in the United States.  This helps explain why it’s also been estimated that medical errors, of which a drug mistake is one example, are the third leading cause of death in the nation.

Types of Medication Errors

Serious medication errors take many forms, including:

·         Wrong dosage

·         Wrong patient

·         Wrong route – oral versus intravenous, for example

·         Wrong frequency

In its report announcing the new effort to reduce medication mistakes, WHO points to fatigue and staff shortages as two contributors to serious drug errors.  A 2013 U.S. study showed that an overwhelming majority of nurses – 64 percent – made medication errors.  Nurses can face a daunting number of patients, and therefore overwork may cause many of the medication mistakes they make.

Pharmacies, particularly those outside of hospitals, are another source of medication errors.  The healthcare providers at these facilities are being asked to fill an increasing number of prescriptions.  In a rush to match the rising demand, medication mistakes can be made.

Busy Pharmacies Can Lead to Mistakes

WHO calls this factor “polypharmacy.”   It’s when a patient is using at least four medications – either prescription, over-the counter, or a combination of both – at the same time.  This rise in medication use taxes pharmacies and heightens the chances for serious side effects if doctors writing prescriptions and the people filling them aren’t careful.

To help protect against medication errors, some experts advise patients when picking up drug prescriptions to:

·         Check the directions on the bottle and compare them to the directions given by the prescribing physician

·         Check the bottle to ensure the reason for the medicine is the condition they’ve been diagnosed with

·         Check to make sure the doctor’s name on the bottle is their prescribing physician

The responsibility for a serious medical error, however, typically rests with the healthcare providers, be they doctors, nurses or pharmacists.

If you or a family member was a victim of a serious medication error, consult with a medical malpractice attorney to investigate how the error occurred and obtain justice on your behalf.

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

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog June 19, 2017