Medication Errors: A Form of Medical Malpractice

Article posted on:10/24/2007

The extra medical costs of treating drug-related injuries occurring in hospitals alone conservatively amount to $3.5 billion a year, and this estimate does not take into account lost wages and productivity or additional health care costs, the report says.

The committee commissioned to write the report recommended a series of actions for patients, health care organizations, government agencies, and pharmaceutical companies. The recommendations include steps to increase communication and improve interactions between health care professionals and patients, as well as steps patients should take to protect themselves against this happening to them.

The report also calls for prescriptions to be made electronically by 2010 and posits ways to improve things such as naming, packaging and labeling of drugs to prevent errors and reduce patient confusion and the creation of new, consumer-friendly information resources through which patients can obtain objective, easy-to-understand drug information.

The frequency of medication errors and preventable adverse drug events is cause for serious concern," said committee co-chair Linda R. Cronenwett, dean and professor, School of Nursing, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "We need a comprehensive approach to reducing these errors that involves not just health care organizations and federal agencies, but the industry and consumers as well," she said. Co-chair J. Lyle Bootman, dean and professor, College of Pharmacy, University of Arizona, Tucson, added, "Our recommendations boil down to ensuring that consumers are fully informed about how to take medications safely and achieve the desired results, and that health care providers have the tools and data necessary to prescribe, dispense, and administer drugs as safely as possible and to monitor for problems.

The ultimate goal is to achieve the best care and outcomes for patients each time they take a medication."

Medication errors generally fall into one of several categories:  prescription errors, dispensing errors, medication administration errors and/or patience compliance errors.  Generally speaking, all hospitals and pharmacists should have in place organization systems for administering, ordering, and dispensing medications.   For example, before dispensing a medication in a non-emergency setting, a pharmacist should review an original copy of the written medication order and participate in a self checking process in reading prescriptions, labeling the prescription and dosage calculations.   Pharmacists should never guess or assume the intent of a confusing medication order.  The physician and pharmacist must communicate in those situations to avoid an error.  Medication prescribers, such as doctors, should evaluate the patient's total status before ordering a new medication so as to ensure that the new medication will not adversely interact with medications the patient is currently taking.  Moreover, health care providers should work to ensure that the dosage level for each medication is correct and will not adversely affect the patient or the existing medications of the patient.  

If you or a loved one have been the victim of medication error / prescription error, whether it occurred at a hospital and/or pharmacy, contact our team of attorneys for a free consultation at 410-385-2225 or visit our website to set up your free consultation.