Nobody enjoys taking medicine, but it ends up being a regular part of life. Everyone tends to trust medical professionals to help, heal, and follow their ethical code of “do no harm.” So, errors with medications can be extra frustrating and unnerving. Medical professionals are human too, and sometimes deal with being overworked, getting tired, and even just plain confused by the complexities found in the field of medicine. It doesn’t help that many medications have complicated names.
Types of Medication Errors
It is estimated that medication errors harm around 1,500,000 people in the United States every year. This broad category of dangerous medical mistakes can cover a variety of improper conduct or procedures.
Many errors result from problems that occur before the medication is even prepared or administered. Prescription errors are when the prescribing physician makes a mistake with the medication type, dosage, or patient’s history.
These errors also connect to misdiagnosis, which is one of the leading causes of malpractice lawsuits in the United States. Complex medical histories, rare conditions, and cutting edge medications all contribute to prescription errors and increase your chance of misdiagnosis.
After a medication is prescribed, usually someone else has to prepare and package it, usually a pharmacist. At this stage in the medication process, many more errors can pop up. Medications are complex things and their preparation is a delicate and critical step.
One of the most frequent preparation error reported is lack of hand hygiene before preparation, which can lead to contamination. This problem persists through all levels of the medication supply chain, but it can have the gravest results during preparation. Incorrect identification of the medication or its ingredients can also ruin the preparation phase.
Who hasn’t made a paperwork error at work before? Well, for medical staff, an extra zero or typo could have dire consequences. This negligence could be the source of a harmful medication error that either causes an overdose or makes medication ineffective.
Another administration error is inadequate chart review. This could result in the prescription of a drug that the patient is allergic to or have a known interaction with a preexisting condition or illness. Failure to communicate thoroughly with a patient can have this same effect.
Causes of Medication Errors
It’s well-known that healthcare professionals work hard and that recently many have been stretched past their limits. Naturally, mistakes are unavoidable at a certain point. Whether it is the medical professional’s fault or the blame is on the system they operate in, rushed decision-making and exhaustion can cause problems. Personal problems can ripple into the professional space, even for doctors.
Employee burnout, negligence, carelessness, and even forgetfulness can all contribute to or cause a medication error. Sloppy handwriting is a common form of poor communication, and inadequate note-taking or incorrect shorthand cause problems long term on charts and in medical records.
The culture in the workplace comes from the top down. If you think your medication error was caused by an administration policy, this could be bigger than one mistake. The procedures used in one clinic or pharmacy can impact hundreds of patients on any given day.
Most medications have at least three different names: their chemical compound name, the main brand name, and the generic version’s name. Add in the complications of many pharmaceutical companies’ love of Greek and Latin root words and you end up with many similar-sounding names.
When Is It Malpractice?
Whether or not there was a mistake with your medication, there must be demonstrable harm in order for it to be considered malpractice. Many medication errors go completely unnoticed, possibly prolonging or preventing proper treatment until it is corrected.
Unless there is a negative reaction to the improper medication or health problems with a connection to the incorrect dosage, you’ll have a hard time. That said, many law firms specialize in proving medical malpractice and their expertise can help you decide if you have a case worth pursuing.