In the United States, as many as 9,000 people die every year because of taking the wrong prescription medication. Hundreds of thousands of others will have adverse reactions to incorrect medications but will not report it or may not even know that they took medication that either was not, or should not have been, prescribed to them. Sometimes doctors simply prescribe the wrong medications. However, there are many other factors that can affect whether the medication your doctor prescribes you will help you or hurt you.
What Are the Effects of Prescription Medication Errors?
In addition to the thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of adverse reactions caused by prescription errors every year, many people suffer mental and physical pain as a result of these errors. Some consequences can be long-term and require additional treatment. The financial burden of treating people who experience prescription medication errors is more than $40 billion annually.
Types of Prescription Medication Errors.
There are many different types of prescription medication errors. They can occur at various stages of the prescription process, from the time a patient offers a medical history to the health care provider until the time the patient takes the medication.
Prescription medication errors generally occur:
- When doctors prescribe medications. This is the most common point at which medication errors occur (between 30% to 70%). Most errors are from the healthcare provider prescribing:
- the wrong medication
- an incorrect dose
- an incorrect intake frequency
- When prescriptions are transcribed. At this point, specific medications can be accidentally overlooked or omitted.
- When pharmacists dispense medications. Medications can be dispensed:
- to the wrong patient
- with the wrong medicine
- with the wrong dose
- with the wrong frequency
- When medications are administered. Likewise, even though medicines are dispensed correctly, they may be administered incorrectly in the same way.
- When medication regimes are monitored. Sometimes medicines may be correctly dispensed and administered, but their interactions with other drugs or with vital body functions, like liver and kidney, may be overlooked.
What Factors Contribute to Prescription Medication Errors?
Although there are various stages of the medication process where errors can occur, the actual cause of the errors may result from a combination of factors that come to bear at each stage. These can include:
- Physician factors. Every assessment and conclusion about a patient that a physician makes can affect the physician’s diagnosis and treatment plan, including the medications that are prescribed. As a result, there are numerous ways in which a physician could make a prescription medication error. For example:
- Lack of therapeutic training
- Inadequate knowledge or experience prescribing medications
- Incomplete knowledge of the patient
- Failure to diagnose proper risk
- Inattention to detail
- Miscommunication with the patient
- Patient factors. It is not always the doctor’s error that causes a prescription medication error. Often, there may be factors associated with the patient that lend to an incorrect prescription. These might include:
- Language barriers
- Health condition (multiple medications or drug-allergies)
- Factors affecting the work environment. Prescribing, dispensing, and administering medication is no different than operating a piece of machinery or driving a car—mistakes can occur because of the environment in which you are functioning. Likewise, the medical work environment can be hectic, demanding, stressful, and distracting. One’s attention may be affected by:
- Time pressures
- Distractions (other patients)
- Interruptions (other physicians, emergencies, staff)
- Lack of standards or procedures
- Physical environment (space, lighting, temperature)
- Processing factors. Those who process prescriptions in a pharmacy engage in a repetitive, systematic task involving almost 7,000 different prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications with often difficult names and numerous genetic variations. Generating prescriptions can be difficult and complex and involve a host of data points in a complicated computerized system. Mistakes with labeling and packaging are common.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Prescription Medication Errors?
Because of the complexity of the prescription medication process, there are many factors that could come together to cause prescription medication errors. Here are some of the most common causes:
- Distractions. Distractions account for 75% of prescription medication errors. Most of these are by physicians, who are constantly multitasking on critical matters. Writing prescriptions may become a secondary task that becomes subject to miscommunication, inattention, or carelessness. When physicians have too many prescription medication errors, their prescribing privileges may be restricted.
- Miscommunication. The universal myth about a physician’s handwriting has some truth to it. Physicians are often rushed in their duties and take shortcuts when writing prescriptions. This can result in prescription errors. Many prescription medication errors result from:
- Illegible writing
- Misinterpreted symbols
- Use of abbreviations
- Improper translations
When these occur, practitioners and pharmacists may guess at what drug or dose was intended, which can result in a prescription error. Many such writing errors are eliminated or reduced in practices that require prescriptions to be typed into a computer system.
- Misinformation. Many errors occur because of a bad interaction of multiple drugs or a drug that reacts with a patient's existing condition of which the prescribing physician was not aware, such as liver or kidney issues, which require a lower dosage. Also, a patient’s age and weight is relevant to dose administration, but doctors do not always account for them. Finally, directions for taking the prescription should be clearly indicated and explained to the patient. Abbreviations on the bottle are a recipe for intake errors. Misinformation also can include that which is shared by the patient as well. False or incomplete medication histories can lead down a path of prescription errors.
- Bad drugs. In many cases, there are simply bad drugs produced by the pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs. These are usually addressed with class action lawsuits to prohibit the production and distribution of the affected drug.
Who Is Liable for Prescription Medication Errors?
If you or a loved one have suffered negative effects of a prescription medication error, you may have a right to recover damages for medical malpractice. Depending on what type of error caused your injury, what factors contributed to it, and who caused it, you may be able to show that someone in the prescription medication process was negligent and is responsible for your injuries. This could include any or all of the following:
- Pharmaceutical company
- Physician who prescribed your medicine
- Practitioner or nurse who administered your medicine
- Hospital where your medicine was administered
- Pharmacist who distributed your medicine
To recover damages from any of these possible defendants, you must show that the defendant was negligent in performing their duty with respect to your medication. Proving negligence generally requires four things:
- Duty of care. Manufacturers, doctors, hospitals, and pharmacists have an obligation to you to provide safe medicine that is appropriate for you. For doctors, this includes knowing:
- Your medical history
- Other medications you are taking
- Any allergies to medications you may have
- Breach of Duty. When one of these possible defendants fails to satisfy the medical standard required for their part in the prescription medicine process, they may be found to have breached their duty.
- Causation. Just because the defendant made a mistake with respect to your medication does not mean that they were negligent. You must show that their negligence was the direct cause of any reaction or injury you suffered.
- Damages. Whatever reaction or injury you suffered must have resulted in either economic (medical bills, lost income or wages, other expenses) or emotional damage, or pain and suffering.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Case? Our Medical Malpractice Attorneys Can Help.
If you or a loved one has experienced medical malpractice in Kansas City you should speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.249.2101 to schedule your free consultation.