Medication errors: Why they happen and how to prevent them

Medication errors are highly preventable, though they continue to lead to devastating effects on people in Florida.

Most people in Florida would believe that going to the hospital and receiving medicine is supposed to help their situation, not make it worse. Unfortunately, and for a number of different reasons, mistakes happen and patients wind up in poorer condition than they were in prior to setting foot in the door.

A recent study from Johns Hopkins University suggests that medical errors are the third highest cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease and cancer, based on data trends from 2000 to 2008 as applied to 2013 hospital death numbers. The researchers speculate that in that year, of 35,416,020 hospitalizations, 251,454 medical-error deaths resulted. The study concludes that about 9.5 percent of all U.S. deaths annually are from medical errors.

Mistakes regarding medication - whether in the prescription phase or the administrative phase - are certainly part of those medical errors.

How common are medication errors?

The National Institutes of Health reports that every year, approximately 7 million people across the country suffer the effects of a preventable medication error. When it comes to patients in a hospital setting, roughly 30 percent of those patients will experience an issue with discharge medication reconciliation.

These errors account for roughly $21 billion in costs. What's worse, they lead to serious injury and, for some, even death.

What is considered a medication error?

Patients should be award that a mistake when it comes to drug administration or prescription could take many forms. Consider, for example, two drugs that have very similar names. It would merely take a doctor confusing the two or a pharmacist mistaking one for the other to upend someone's world.

Drug errors may also occur in the following ways:

  • Medication is administered to the wrong patient.
  • The wrong medication is given to the right patient.
  • An incorrect dosage is given.
  • A patient is allergic to the medication prescribed.

One common issue - especially among elderly patients - is that someone is taking multiple medications. A doctor could prescribe a drug that counteracts with another medicine the person is already taking, either leading to adverse side effects or rendering a medicine useless.

How can these errors be prevented?

The onus of preventing medication errors is largely on medical staff members. A physician with poor handwriting could easily mislead a nurse or pharmacist into thinking that he or she is prescribing one medication when it should be the other. Digital medical records and prescriptions are becoming more and more popular, reducing the odds of this type of human error.

Even with digital records, however, is the need to check and re-check several key points before administering a medication to a patient. For example, the patient's name and the name of the medicine should be certain. Additionally, strict adherence to the dosage is essential. In children, doses are often based on weight. Therefore, double-checking the weight of the child against the dose is key.

Another simple and effective way to prevent an adverse drug event is to ensure that medical professionals have an accurate history of the patient, including any drug allergies, current medications and underlying conditions. Though doctors should always ask for this information, patients take great strides toward safety when they let their caregivers know each of these items.

Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a medical malpractice attorney in Florida.