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Medication errors in the U.S.

| Mar 22, 2021 | Firm News |

When people are sick or in pain, they trust that their doctor will help them recover. But doctors, as well as pharmacists and other healthcare professionals, can make severe mistakes. Unfortunately, medication errors are common. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), more than 100,000 medication errors are reported every single year. 

Patients and their loved ones who have been impacted by a medication error, may be entitled to compensation. These errors can have long-term consequences, including becoming sicker, loss of consciousness, birth defects and even death.

Causes of medication errors

The FDA defines a medication error as “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the healthcare professional, patient or consumer.” The keyword here is “preventable.” Medication errors are often the result of a careless mistake by a prescribing physician, dispensing pharmacist or administering healthcare professional. 

One study, Medication Dispensing Errors And Prevention, found that almost half of all medication errors happen when a drug is prescribed or ordered. This can include: 

  • Illegible handwriting: This is less of a concern than it was in the past, due to electronic records and ordering online
  • Similar medication names: There is a staggering amount of prescription medications on the market in the U.S. Some have similar sounding names or spellings
  • Unclear or vague instructions: Take as needed,” should be replaced with more detailed information: “Take every four hours as needed for pain”
  • Indication is omitted: Some drugs are used to treat more than one condition. Pharmacists can catch certain errors when doctors include the reason for prescribing
  • Incorrect dosage: For example, some drugs are dosed according to a child’s weight and the prescriber miscalculates

Medication errors occur in inpatient settings

In busy inpatient settings, such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, there are even more opportunities for errors to occur. Even when medication is prescribed correctly, mistakes can happen when medication is administered:

  • To the wrong person
  • At the wrong frequency, more or less often than prescribed
  • Via the incorrect route (like if a topical medication is given orally)
  • After being stored incorrectly (for example, a refrigerated medication being left at room temperature)
  • After the expiration date
  • In the wrong dosage amount
  • For a period longer than prescribed

The consequences

Unfortunately, some of these mistakes have fatal consequences. According to Medication Dispensing Errors And Prevention, between 7,000 and 9,000 people in the U.S. die each year after a medication error. 

Some medication errors no doubt go undetected or unreported. Other errors will prevent people from getting better or will even make them sicker. Furthermore, any time a drug is given incorrectly, there is the chance of adverse drug interactions. Health professionals and institutions that make these mistakes must be held accountable, by both the facility they work for and the legal system.