Medication Errors

Medication Errors

Advances in medicine over the last century have given the populace ways to relieve chronic pain, cure diseases, and extend lives. The benefits of medications range from alleviating cold symptoms to putting patients under for surgery. When medical professionals negligently make medication errors, patients can suffer severe and debilitating injuries.

What Are Medication Errors?

Medication errors describe a wide range of potentially harmful events involving various drugs, vitamins, and supplements in the healthcare system. Mistakes can happen when medical professionals incorrectly prescribe a medication, fill out a patient’s chart, or dispense or administer a drug improperly.

According to a study found in the National Library of Medicine, medication errors can be categorized in the following ways:

  • Failure to administer a drug properly
  • Prescribing medication without taking into account a patient’s medical conations or potential interactions
  • Administering a drug too early or too late
  • Failing to prescribe or dispense a medication properly
  • Administering or dispensing the wrong medication or dose
  • Improperly fulfilling a medication

When healthcare providers commit medication errors, patients can suffer significant harm.

What Are the Consequences of Medication Errors in Oklahoma?

Medication mistakes are responsible for devastating consequences. Simple human error can cause permanent and life-threatening injuries. Whether a patient is administered the wrong medication or prescribed the wrong dosage, adverse drug reactions can lead to serious side effects and death.

When medical errors are due to a healthcare provider’s negligence, they may be subject to severe professional repercussions. Generally, physicians lose patient trust and sustain irreparable harm to their reputation. Medical professionals may have their license suspended or lose it completely. After suspension, earning back a medical license usually involves strict oversight for an extended amount of time.

Healthcare providers may even face criminal charges if the negligent act is considered willful. Physicians often face a medical board review for termination.

Medication errors are also very costly. Each year, preventable drug mistakes are responsible for more than $21 billion in healthcare expenses. An additional $40 billion are spent to help patients injured by medication errors. Globally, drug mistakes are responsible for over 1% of health expenses.

Drugs Frequently Connected to Medication Errors

Some medications have a statistically higher rate of being involved in an error. This may be due to a number of reasons. For example, an anesthetic may look near identical to another medication. If similar-looking drugs are stored in close proximity, they can easily be mistaken for the other.

Medications Prone to Medication Mistakes

The most common drugs involved in medical errors are:

  • Respiratory drugs (e.g., steroids to reduce airway swelling, treatments for breathing infections, supplemental oxygen)
  • Anticoagulants (i.e., drugs that prevent blood clots)
  • Antibiotics
  • Medications that affect the nervous system (e.g., anesthetics, antiparkinson agents, muscle relaxants)

Society has come to rely on a tremendous number of medications. Today there are more than 10,000 prescription drugs on the market. Another 300,000 drugs are over the counter.

Drug-Specific Statistics Involving Medical Errors

The following are important statistics regarding specific drug types prone to errors:

  • 50% of people who require emergency medical attention for adverse medication side effects were harmed by insulin, aspirin, opioids, or oral anticoagulants
  • An intravenous medication error harms 48% to 53% of patients
  • 41.2% of pharmacist mistakes involved heart medications
Environments Prone to Medication Mistakes

Some healthcare settings are more prone to medication errors than others. Given that larger medical facilities will have a disproportionate amount of careless drug mistakes than small clinics, error rates better illustrate vulnerable environments:

  • Up to 55% of drug mistakes involve improper dispensing on a local level (i.e., local pharmacy or clinic)
  • More than 530,000 injuries occur in outpatient clinics due to medication negligence
  • 30% of medication error injuries happen in a hospital setting

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are also prone to medication errors. Older patients take far more medications than younger adults, significantly increasing the odds of a mistake.

What Are the Primary Causes of Medication Errors?

Negligent drug errors in the medication-use system involve those who prescribe, administer, or dispense medications to patients.

Pharmacists, nurses, physicians, and other medical personnel have specific training to prevent medication errors. Negligence occurs when a healthcare provider fails to uphold the level of medical standard of care owed to their patient resulting in the patient’s harm.

Primary Causes of Medication Errors Fall into Three Different Categories

Primary causes generally involve physical, psychological, and environmental reasons.

  • Physical causes: Most physical causes are clerical in nature. Medical personnel may enter the wrong medication in a patient’s chart or mistype the dosage. Anesthesiologists may miscalculate the amount of oxygen the patient needs during surgery.
  • Psychological causes: Psychological reasons typically involve fatigued healthcare workers. Medical staff often work long, high-pressure shifts. Fatigue has been linked to cognitive and memory difficulties. Forgetting a patient’s allergies or confusing one patient with another can lead to prescription and dosage errors.
  • Environmental causes: Environmental causes generally involve receiving the wrong medication from the pharmacy or pulling the incorrect medication that is in close proximity to another.
Examples of Medication Errors That Result in Patient Harm

There are too many possible ways for medical professionals to make a drug mistake. Medication errors can happen in virtually any setting.

Some of the most common medication errors that lead to patient harm include the following:

  • Duration errors: Duration errors involve a medication that should be taken for thirty days but only prescribed for fifteen. Most antibiotics should be taken until completion, for instance.
  • Dosage mistakes: Drug dosages are critical. When taken intravenously, it is imperative that the medication is of the correct concentration and precise amount. In some cases, a healthcare provider may miscalculate a weight-based medicine, resulting in a patient receiving a dose too high.
  • Frequency errors: Time of day and how often to take a drug are critical to maintaining a medication’s effectiveness. Some medicines are best if taken in higher concentrations but less frequently throughout the week. Medication errors like failing to dispense the correct concentration or providing the wrong instructions can cause detrimental consequences.
  • Incorrect medication: Many drugs have similar uses but with subtle differences in their chemical makeup. Patients may be allergic to an ingredient in one medicine but fare very well on the other. If a physician prescribes the wrong medication containing the allergen, the patient could go into anaphylactic shock and die.
  • Avoidable adverse reactions: Some medications can have severe negative reactions when taken in conjunction with another. Antibiotics are notorious for potentially dangerous interactions with other medications. Patients have detailed charts to help prevent an array of medical mistakes. When healthcare providers fail to check what drugs a patient is taking or fail to enter current medications on their chart correctly, the consequences can be deadly.
  • Discontinuation or modification: Failing to discontinue or modify a drug can be an act of negligence. While the FDA approves an average of 30 new medications per year, many others are reported for potential diseases and other negative health consequences over time. Patients can suffer serious side effects if a physician fails to change or discontinue a medication that the FDA has recalled.
  • Proper route of administration: Route of administration refers to how a medication should be taken. Some drugs work better in pill form, while others must be injected through an IV. Wrong route errors typically occur due to clerical errors when the initial order is typed into the computer.

Medication errors can be prevented with proper quality control programs. Most mistakes are the result of human error. Having a better system of checks and balances via technology and personnel can eliminate the majority of serious adverse medication mistakes.

How Prevalent are Medication Errors?

Medication errors can impact anyone. Patients can receive the wrong type of anesthetic for a routine procedure. Children can receive the wrong prescription at the pharmacy.

According to various studies, more than 7 million people are affected by medication errors in America every year:

We rely on medical professionals to administer the proper medications and in the correct dosages. However, if a doctor’s handwriting is illegible, a pharmacist dispenses the wrong medication, or a nurse misreads a label, patients suffer.

Receiving the wrong drug or improperly taking the correct one can cause devastating injuries. Patients may develop a skin rash or skin disfigurement initially. In some cases, the patient develops a new health problem. Wrong route errors with cytotoxic drug vincristine have left patients paralyzed and with chronic respiratory issues. Mistakes with blood thinners have led to patients bleeding out internally.

Medication errors have killed an average of 8,000 Americans each year. According to DataRay, Patient Safety Technologies, drug mistakes are the 8th leading cause of death.

The medication errors attorneys at Graves McLain have assisted numerous patients with personal injury claims. Call to schedule a free consultation today by dialing (918) 359-6600.

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