How a Medication Error Could Spin Your Life Upside Down

by | Mar 13, 2024 | Medication Errors

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To err is human. What if your physician did it by prescribing you the wrong medication? If fortunate enough, you may escape. But it may even snatch your life. Medication error is not just a mistake in prescription. In legal terms, it’s medical malpractice.

Take a look at the definition of medication error given by The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention (NCC MERP).

“Any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer. Such events may be related to professional practice, health care products, procedures, and systems, including prescribing; order communication; product labeling, packaging, and nomenclature; compounding; dispensing; distribution; administration; education; monitoring; and use.”

In layman’s terms, a medication error is a preventable act of prescribing a drug or medication that by any means cause adverse health effect in a patient. A patient may receive methadone instead of methylphenidate resulting in some complications. It is an example of a error of medication.

How Medication Errors Occur

Medication errors usually occur during

  1. Prescribing a medication

Because of the similar spelling of different medications, the doctor may order the incorrect medication name, or the incorrect dose or frequency. Receiving methadone instead of methylphenidate

  1. Transcribing the process

Mistakes may occur when the prescription of the physician is transcribed by a medical transcriptionist which then reaches the pharmacist. Shorthands used by the physicians in the prescription could also be transcribed incorrectly. Illegible hand writings can easily make the patient’s life miserable.

  1. Dispensing the medication

A dispensing mistake occurs when there is a difference between the prescription and the drug administered to the patient or the health facility. Instead of Lodine which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, iodine may be dispensed.

  1. Administering the medication in the patient

These errors are encountered in the mode of administration of a medication which can lead to serious complications in the patient.

  1. Monitoring of the patient

Medication errors can also happen when there is a failure in the monitoring of the patient before administering a particular medication.

 Let’s now dive into the medication error statistics provided by MedWatch, which is the FDA’s medical product safety reporting program for health professionals, patients, and consumers.

  • More than 100,000 records of alleged medication errors are received each year in the United States. Medication errors in nursing are very common among them.
  • The administration of an incorrect dosage of medication is the most common mistake that contributes to 41% of fatal medication errors.
  • Prescribing the wrong drug or administering it incorrectly accounts for 16% of medication errors, according to the FDA.
  • The pharmacy errors statistics records that between 0.014%-55% errors occur in dispensing medications.

This is the reported data. The fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of other patients who do not either know or report about their medication error complications. Now you would have understood how dreadful the situation is.

Medication errors can occur in the following ways by any medical professional in the healthcare system. The following are the common medication error types reported in the US.

  • Administering incorrect medication
  • Administering an incorrect dose of the medication
  • Error in the administration of the medication
  • Prescribing a medication that would adversely interact with other medications the patient takes
  • Prescribing unauthorized drugs
  • Failing to warn the patient about the common side effects of the medication
  • Prescribing a drug to which the patient has an allergic history
  • Mislabeling a medication
  • Monitoring and compliance errors

Medication Error Complications

The consequences of a medication error might range from minor discomfort to mortality. The most common complications are listed below.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Worsening of pre-existing symptoms
  • Life-threatening situation
  • Disability
  • Birth defect
  • Death

Who to Sue for Medication Errors?

A medication error may involve a nurse or doctor. However, a pharmacist may also make a mistake when filling or dispensing a prescription. In cases where medicine error is the result of manufacturing or packaging faults of the medication, the pharmaceutical company could be held liable.

In short, the victim of a medical error is entitled to sue any health care professional who is proved negligent in the case. whether it be a prescription error lawsuit or medication error lawsuit, it depends upon the circumstances of the med mal.

Why to Claim Medication Errors?

Medication errors may lead to minor side effects to even the death of the individual. In some cases, wrong medication or dosage could cause permanent disabilities in the patient. This may cause a huge financial burden to the whole family.

Getting adequate medical care is the right of every citizen. It is the legal right of an individual to file a civil action when victimized in a medical error. The settlement amount from the medical malpractice claim could help the individual meet his medical expenses and improve the quality of his life.

Medication Error & the Law in the US

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules the manufacture and usage of medications in the United States. The law of medication errors is controlled by federal and state laws.

The federal law governs the medication errors under the followings acts

  • Code of Federal Regulations – Title 21
  • Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005
  • National Medical Error Disclosure and Compensation Act of 2005

Around 39 states in the US like Georgia, Indiana and Michigan follow the state regulations which implement the “apology law”. As per the law, it allow doctors to apologize and give condolences or expressions of sympathy without fear of legal repercussions. However, the doctor’s apologies may be admissible as evidence in some states whereas in some states it is not considered as legal evidence.

How to Pursue a Medication Error Claim?

Suspecting a unauthorized drug error, the patient should immediately communicate it with the physician, nurse or pharmacist involved in the incident. The victim should seek the service of a medical malpractice attorney to know the possibilities of a claim. The claim must be filed within a certain time frame of the incident to ensure legal validity.

If a medication error is confirmed before administration of the medication, then it’s called a “near miss.” It may not be worth the time and effort to file a lawsuit in such instances.

Evidence is crucial in this medical malpractice claim. The plaintiff should hold all medical bills, prescriptions, orders, and other documents relevant to the drug in question. It should be submitted to the attorney for analysis.

In case of medication error deaths, wrongful death suits could be filed by the family members. To make a successful claim, the medical malpractice attorney should establish the following arguments.

  • The medical provider had a duty to provide a proper standard of care
  • The medical provider breached his duty of care
  • The negligence caused an injury or harm to the patient
  • The harm could have been prevented and resulted in compensable damages to the patient

Damages for medication errors would depend on the severity of the harm that occurred to the patient. However, it may economic damages like hospital bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, rehabilitation costs, and disability. Non-economic damages like pain and suffering could also fall under a medication error lawsuit.

Strategies for Medication Error Prevention 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure…

Avoiding medication errors is the responsibility of all medical professionals involved in patient care. In this aspect, the patient should also have more control over his own health.

  • A patient should know about the medicine he is taking. Any doubts should be clarified with the physician.
  • The physician’s instructions on the dosage of the medication should be followed.
  • It is the duty of the physician to inform the patient if a particular medication is known to have any side effects.
  • If the medication received from the pharmacy is found to be different from the physician’s prescription, it should be clarified with the pharmacist and should not be taken without the physician’s advice.
  • The patient should discuss with the physician about all the routine medications he is taking. This would help to prevent harmful interactions between drugs.
  • Physicians should follow electronic means of prescription rather than handwritten prescriptions to avoid mistakes in the names of the medication.
  • The patient should not take any medications on their own unless it is prescribed by a qualified physician.
  • If the patient feels any discomfort or weakness after taking a medication, it should be discontinued and clarified with the physician.
  • It’s the responsibility of the physician or the medical provider to go through the medical history of the patient before prescribing any medication.
  • If the patient has an allergy to any drugs, it should be communicated with the physician.
  • The FDA reviews the drug name, labeling, packaging, and product design to identify details that could lead to prescription errors. This is a great step towards preventing medication errors.

Final Thoughts

Every fair precaution must be taken by hospitals, physicians, and pharmacists to ensure that prescription drugs are safe for patients. Through active volunteer programs like MedWatch, health professionals should more actively report issues of medications and dietary supplements.

It is important to bear in mind that control of medication errors is never complete without patient knowledge. Every individual should be familiar with the medication he uses.

At the end of the day, your health is your responsibility and your right. Never delay consulting a medical malpractice attorney when you find yourself victimized in a medication error. Your medical records would be your asset in the claim.

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MedLegal360 is a specialized author in medical-legal matters, providing clear, authoritative insights on healthcare legislation and personal injury litigation for professionals and the curious.

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