Prescription Drug or Medication Errors as Medical Malpractice

When we are under the care of any medical professional, we expect the very highest standards of care. After all, these are professionals who have undergone years of initial training then further training while in employment. But sometimes, whether due to human error or negligence, mistakes do happen, and a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist can either prescribe the wrong medication or the wrong dosage of a medication.

Reports from the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation show that avoidable medication errors happen to over 7 million patients in the U.S. each year. These errors also lead to an estimated 7,000 deaths every year.

Many medical malpractice cases that involve mistakes with medication can have potentially fatal effects. If you have been the victim of an error in prescribing medication, you want to know who should be held liable and you want to receive accurate legal advice on to how to proceed.

What is a Prescription Drug Error?

The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention (NCC MERP) 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 health care professional, patient, or consumer. Such events may be related to professional practice, health care products, procedures, and systems, including prescribing, order communication, product labeling, packaging, and nomenclature, compounding, dispensing, distribution, administration, education, monitoring, and use.”

To put more simply, these errors can include:

  • Giving a patient the wrong medication.
  • Administering the wrong dosage (this could be too little or too much).
  • Mislabelling the meducation.
  • Giving a patient medication they are allergic to.
  • Giving a patient medication that interact badly with other medications being used.
  • Not advising a patient of potential side effects.
  • Faults at manufacturing level leaving medication at the wrong dosage or with toxic effects.

Who Can Be Liable for Prescription Drug Errors?

Depending on the circumstances of the error, anyone in the prescribing chain, from factory to nurse, could be held liable. This includes the manufacturer, the hospital pharmacy, the prescribing chemist, doctors and nurses.

Damages in a Prescription Drug Error Case

It is difficult to state an average award in these types of cases. What a court may decide to award will be based on a number of factors such as any further medical costs incurred as a result of the error, any pain and suffering, including psychological effects caused, and any loss of normal life. Punitive damages are rare, though may be awarded in cases where there have been significant errors in the manufacturing process.

Common Causes of Medication Errors

Errors can happen for many reasons, including tiredness and lack of concentration, but the five most common causes of errors with medications are:

  • Distraction. This accounts for almost 75% of all medication errors.
  • Poor communications between medical staff leading to mistakes.
  • A lack of communication between your attending medical staff and you.
  • Drugs with similar sounding names or drugs that look similar.
  • Use of medical abbreviations leading to misunderstandings.

Who Is Responsible for Most Medication Errors?

Errors with medication most often happen when drugs are being prescribed or ordered. Some typical errors include the prescriber writing down the wrong medication, wrong dosage, or the wrong type of administration.

Much of this is due to the distraction factor which accounts for ¾ of all errors. Errors in ordering account for almost half of all errors. Many errors – between 30 and 70% – are noticed and rectified by nurses or pharmacists, but this is still a major, and preventable problem.

What To Do If It’s Medical Malpractice

As with other areas of medicine, not every mistake automatically means there is a right or need for legal action. In order to consider bringing a medical malpractice suit due to medication errors, there must be evidence that negligence led to injury or harm. Where that is the case, the plaintiff needs to be able to prove the following:

  • That there was a breach in the duty of care. Duty of care is a form of contractual relationship between you (the patient) and any medical professional attending you. A healthcare worker who is prescribing or administering medication to you should be fully aware of any allergies you have and also what other medications you are receiving.
  • That there was a breach of duty. Any professional attending you should inquire about all relevant patient details before prescribing any medication. This can include the patient’s previous history, their condition, their allergies, and other medications currently prescribed. If they failed to do any of this, then it can be said that they were in breach of their duty.
  • That there was a direct link – causation – between the act of negligence and personal injury. The act of prescribing the wrong medication alone is not enough to warrant a malpractice suit.
  • That there was some level of damage. This can be both economic and emotional harm. The economic factor can include further medical expenses or a loss of wages. If there are long-lasting, or lifetime effects, then there may be damages awarded for the pain and suffering element.

Where these elements can be proven, then there are grounds for medical malpractice lawsuits. By engaging a competent medical malpractice attorney, you increase your chances of a positive outcome and of holding any negligent staff accountable.

Examples of Medical Malpractice: Prescribing the Wrong Medication

When a patient receives the wrong medication, when they receive the wrong dosage of medication, or even when it is administered wrongly (for example, an intramuscular injection instead of an intravenous one) and negligence can be proven, then there are grounds for filing a medical malpractice claim.

Negligence can also include prescribing medication the patient is allergic to, prescribing medication that may interact badly with existing medication, or a medication that may cause a reaction due any of the patient’s health conditions.

Products Liability

There is one set of circumstances where your claim, or part of it may deviate from a medical malpractice claim and that is if there are any product liability factors. There are three main areas for this: where drugs have been defectively manufactured (for example, where the wrong dosage has been created or where the drugs have been contaminated in some way), drugs with dangerous side effects, and medication that has been improperly or falsely marketed.

Where this is the case, potential defendants may include all parties in the chain of manufacturing, sales, and distribution, from factory to testing lab to sales representative to pharmacy.

When Can You File a Medical Malpractice Claim for Prescription Drug Errors?

You can file a medical malpractice claim when a clear link can be proven between negligence and any harm or injury caused as a result of that negligence.

Common Pharmacy Mistakes

The primary mistakes that occur include:

  • Wrong medication being prescribed or issued.
  • Drug interactions with medications already used by patent.
  • Wrong dosage – both too much or too little.
  • Confusion with names or abbreviations.
  • Failure to warn the use of medication with alcohol or when pregnant.

Final Thoughts

Our healthcare professionals are often overworked and undervalued. Long hours and oftentimes low salaries are insufficient reward for the work they do. But with over seven million patients every year being victims of preventable medication errors, there has to be both accountability and some form of redress. There is a need for better systems in place to reduce the amount of errors that happen in the U.S. annually.

At Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., medical malpractice is our speciality. We have many years of experience pursuing claims on behalf of clients who have suffered harm as a result of negligence.

Eileen E. Kroll, one of our senior partners is an experienced nurse-attorney who can cut through the medical jargon and talk to the medical professionals involved in your case to get a clear understanding of the circumstances.

To evaluate your case properly, we offer a free consultation so we can advise you on the best way to move forward. To schedule your free appointment, call us today on our toll-free number at (866)-868-3779. We also never charge a fee unless we win your case.

Steve is a former criminal justice worker. With degrees in psychology and social work, he spent most of his life helping those with addiction issues before switching to criminal justice. He was responsible for writing court reports and advising judges on sentencing. He also supervised offenders, including sex offenders, in the community and carried out risk assessments and probation appraisals. He now lives in SE Asia and is working on his 5th novel.

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