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What are the Common Causes of Medication Errors?

Medication errors are far from rare; it’s estimated that medication mistakes kill one person every day and causes injury to about 1.3 million people every year across the US. Medication errors can occur at any point in the distribution system, from repackaging and dispensing to administering, prescribing, and monitoring. Unfortunately, most medication mistakes are preventable, leading to millions of avoidable injuries and wrongful deaths.

Avoiding medication errors requires vigilance on the part of pharmacists, nurses, doctors, nursing home staff, and individuals. The following are the most common types and causes of these medical mistakes and how they can be prevented.

Types of Prescription Errors

The most common types of prescription errors include:

  • Errors in drug preparation when the medication is improperly formulated
  • Improper method of dosing
  • Incorrect dosage scheduling
  • Omission errors or failing to give a scheduled dose
  • Prescription mistakes such as the wrong dose, quantity, form, method, concentration, or rate of admission or the wrong drug selection based on a patient’s indications or allergies
  • Fragmented care mistakes due to a lack of communication between medical professionals

What Causes Medication Mistakes?

Medication mistakes can happen anywhere. Older adults are at the highest risk of medication mistakes as they often take many prescription drugs, although prescription errors can affect anyone. Aside from errors by the patient, medication mistakes are most likely to happen at pharmacies, hospitals, and nursing homes.

Many prescription mistakes are often due to:

  • Human error, such as being distracted while reading a drug name, insufficient knowledge of contraindications and side effects, typographical errors, lack of communication, or memory lapse.
  • A patient may be inadvertently responsible for a medication error by failing to inform the doctor and/or pharmacist of their full medical history and the drugs they currently take.
  • A doctor, pharmacist, or nursing home staff member may be responsible for the mistake if they overlook medical information, contraindications, drug interactions, or are otherwise negligent.

Preventing Medication Errors

Avoiding potentially dangerous prescription errors requires cooperation and communication between patients, medical professionals, and staff in nursing homes and hospitals. Ways to prevent these mistakes include:

  • Know the patient. Check the name, date of birth, weight, age, allergies, and other information before administering medication. The use of barcode armbands can help reduce the risk of administering errors.
  • Know the drug. Doctors, pharmacists, and doctors should use accurate drug information. Even if a doctor prescribes a medication with the wrong frequency, drug, or dose, another medical professional in the chain — such as the nurse who administers the drug — can avoid a dangerous error.
  • Strong communication. If you are a patient starting a new drug, ask about what the drug should do, how long it will take to see results, the dose, possible side effects, what to do if you miss a dose, and if it will interact with other medications.
  • Accurate documentation. Medical professionals should maintain accurate records of drugs that are administered, including drug name, dose, time, route, patient response, and whether the patient refused.
  • Medication reconciliation. An important process that involves comparing a patient’s current prescription orders to all medications the patient is taking. This process can help prevent omissions, duplications, dosage mistakes, and drug interactions.

Prescription Errors and Medical Malpractice

Many medication errors are caused by medical negligence on the part of a pharmacy, doctor, nurse, or nursing home staff member. Doctors who prescribe medications have a duty to assess the benefits and risks of the drug against the patient’s health, the known side effects of the drug, and how the drug will interact with other medications the patient is taking. Pharmacists have a legal duty to correctly read and fill the doctor’s prescription. Nurses and care providers who administer drugs have a duty to provide the right drug in the right dose at the correct time and within accepted protocol.

If a medical provider fails in any of these duties, you may have a valid medical malpractice claim if you are injured as a result. Medical malpractice lawsuits are notoriously complex, but an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you investigate your case to determine if a medical provider’s negligence contributed to your injury, whether it was caused by a failure to warn, a dispensing error, or wrongful administration.