3 Common Types of Medication Errors in the U.S.

Mistakes in prescribing, dispensing and administering medications cause injury to hundreds of thousands of people each year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 1.5 million people are injured annually in the United States following so-called “medication errors.”

What is a Medication Error?

A medication error is any preventable event which may cause or lead to the inappropriate use of medication or patient harm while the medication is in the control of a health care professional, patient, or consumer. While medication errors usually tend to be associated with the administration of prescribed medicines, in reality, medication errors occur in all areas of the distribution process, including the:

  • Packaging of the drug
  • Prescribing of the drug
  • Repackaging of the drug
  • Dispensing of the drug
  • Administrating of the drug
  • Monitoring of the drug

According to information from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the most commonly cited reasons for errors in medication are caused by:

  • Poor communication
  • Ambiguities found in the names of products, descriptions of products, or medical abbreviations or writing
  • Poor medicine handling procedures and techniques
  • Patient misuse

The Most Common Medication Errors

Administering the Wrong Drug

The Medication Error Reporting Project estimates that confusion surrounding drugs with similar names accounts for up to 25-percent of medication errors. For a patient to take the wrong medication, first, he must be given the wrong medication from the pharmacy. Such a situation could occur with an unclear prescription, due to illegible writing or similar medication names that are not verified by the doctor, or by the pharmacist grabbing the wrong medication due to a similar name.

When patients are administered the incorrect medicine, they may suffer serious side effects – particularly if they have an allergic reaction to the drug wrongly given. When given the incorrect drug, a patient’s body may react in ways that cannot be fully known ahead of time. An FDA study found that almost 20-percent of preventable medication deaths were the result of giving patients the incorrect drug.

Improper Dosage

Giving improper dosages of medication is a result of a breakdown in communication. Whether it is due to poor penmanship by the attending doctor, the incorrect dosage being written down, a loss of concentration by the pharmacist or nursing staff, or any other reason, the improper dosage is a simple mistake which can prove deadly. According to FDA studies, roughly 41-percent of all preventable medication deaths are the result of improper dosage of medications.

Let’s say, for example,  a physician prescribes Colchicine and orders 10.0 mg when he should have ordered 1.0 mg. That’s a simple decimal error; a mistake even the best doctor could make.  However, it could be catastrophic for the patient. Such a high dose could cause Colchicine poisoning, which is similar to arsenic poisoning.

Incorrect Method of Administration

It might not seem like a big deal, but the improper method of administration of a drug can have serious health implications. In Fleming v Baptist General Convention in 1987, a patient was given medicine subcutaneously, rather than through intramuscular IV. This caused the patient to suffer tissue necrosis as a direct result of the improper delivery of the medication. Failing to administer medication correctly is a worrying combination of lack of concentration and poor communication by the medical team and has been found to result in roughly 20-percent of all negligent medication deaths a year.

What to Do If You Are the Victim of a Medication Error

Prescription drug errors are a form of medical malpractice. The primary cause of medical malpractice always centers around medical negligence. If you believe you’ve been the victim of a medication error, it is essential that you contact an experienced personal injury attorney right away.

At Thomas J. Henry, we let our results do the talking. We’re the largest personal injury law firm in Texas, and have the experience, expertise, and determination to get their clients the large settlements and verdicts they deserve. Our firm has offices in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and Houston, serving clients across Texas and nationwide. Call us today at 361-221-5053 and see for yourself why we’re the largest and most successful personal injury firm in the Great State of Texas.


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