Medical Prescription Errors Cause Thousands of Deaths and Countless Injuries Each Year

If You Were Victim To A Prescription Error In Maryland, DC or Virginia You May Be Eligible For Financial Compensation

It is estimated that approximately 7,000 deaths are attributable to medication errors each year or one in every five doses given in hospitals. According to the FDA, there is at least one death per day and 1.3 million people injured each year due to medication errors.

"Medication error" as described by the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error is ‘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.’

These events may include dispensing, administering, use, monitoring, labeling, prescribing, hospital or physician office systems etc. An FDA study evaluated reports of fatal medication errors from 1993 to 1998 and found that the most common error was administration of improper dosage, which accounted for 41% of fatalities. Using and giving the wrong drug accounted for 16% of the errors. Senior citizens, due to their higher intake of medication are at greater risk for medication error.

MEDMARX is a national internet accessible anonymous reporting database accessed by hospitals and health care systems which is used to track and trend medication errors. The website was created in the hope of helping health care facilities improve patient care by understanding the causes of medication errors. Hopefully, by identifying errors and where, when and how they occurred the more patient injury will be reduced. The 2002 report also concluded that incorrect administration technique continues to be responsible for the largest number of harmful medication errors. It also found that healthcare facilities attributed errors to:

  • Workplace distractions – 43%
  • Staffing issues, shift changes, staff changes – 36%
  • Increased workload – 22%

According to the USP Fact sheet, High-Alert Medications, the top medications most involved in errors were insulin, enoxaparin, heparin, nitroglycerin, warfarin and morphine. The types of error listed in volume of mistakes included, wrong administration technique, wrong route, improper dose/quantity, omission error, extra dose, wrong drug and deteriorated product.

In one recent highly publicized case, actor Dennis Quaid and his wife settled with Cedars-Sinai after their newborn twins faced a near-death experience after hospital staff accidentally administered 1,000 times the prescribed dose of the blood thinner heparin. The drug is used to flush IV’s preventing clotting.

The hospital’s internal inquiry found that three separate safety lapses lead to the accident. While the couple settled with the hospital there is still a suit pending against the manufacturer of the drug, Baxter, which sold the drug to the hospital. They argue that while the company changed the packaging of the drug to help eliminate dosage errors, they should have recalled the older unused vials prior to the re-design to prevent errors. They are accused of having prior knowledge that prior infant death had occurred as a result of medication errors. Baxter concludes that the error lies with the hospital.

Common Types of Medical Prescription Errors

As Listed By The American Hospital Association

  • incomplete patient information (knowledge about patients’ allergies, other medicines they are taking, previous diagnoses, and lab results, for example);
  • unavailable drug information (such as lack of up-to-date warnings);
  • miscommunication of drug orders, which can involve poor handwriting, confusion between drugs with similar names, misuse of zeroes and decimal points, confusion of metric and other dosing units, and inappropriate abbreviations
  • lack of appropriate labeling as a drug is prepared and repackaged into smaller units; and
  • environmental factors, such as lighting, heat, noise, and interruptions that can distract health professionals from their medical tasks.

The FDA and ISMP (Institute for Safe Medication Practices) are striving to eliminate the use of ambiguous medical abbreviations that are commonly misinterpreted and result in harm to the patient. The FDA recommends that healthcare professionals consider the ISMP’s List of Error-Prone Abbreviations, Symbols and Dose Designations.

However, as the saying goes, ‘you can bring the horse to the water, but you can’t force the horse to drink’. While these resource materials are available, getting the physicians, nursing staff and health care facilities to follow these guidelines on a daily basis is another question, potentially exposing the patient to error.

Another questionable factor in medication error is the pharmacist. This can involve anything from mislabeling to dispensing the wrong medication to the wrong patient. He may misread the doctor’s handwriting, give the wrong dose or dispense a dose with a very similar name.

The pharmacist owes it to the customer to find out what other medications he is on and if interaction of the new medication will be a problem, otherwise a potentially fatal error could be made. Long hours, stressful periods of the day, multi-tasking these are all situations that can lead to a potentially fatal mistake being made. Pharmacy mistake statistics show that more people die from pharmaceutical mistakes than breast cancer, AIDS, or traffic accidents.

As pharmaceutical errors are highly unreported, this statistic may be much higher. Current studies have shown that there were 3,000 medical malpractice lawsuits against pharmacy workers between 1990 and 2003. Most mistakes made by pharmacists go unnoticed by the public until they are directly affected.

Medication error is unfortunately a rapidly growing problem and one that most people do not even realize they have been the victim until they begin to investigate. Only one in ten mistakes is found to be reported to the FDA. If you feel you have been affected by an error with your medication, you should seek the advice of a trained legal team to better assess your case so that you may know your rights.

See also Medical Malpractice Damages

See also Frequently Asked Questions about Medical Malpractice

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