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What Are the Causes of Medication Errors?

Errors in the prescription and distribution of medications happen far too often in the Unites States. Patients and their families need to be aware of these problems and do their best to avoid them. A medication error can be defined as any preventable occurrence that results in improper medication of a patient and causes harm to that patient. Medication errors include errors made with prescription medicine, over-the-counter medicine, pills purchased through online stores, herbal tinctures and even vitamins. Medication errors account for nearly 1/4 of all medical malpractice cases in the United States and each year in the United States there are approximately 7,000 deaths as the result of medication errors.

Incomplete patient information is also one of the most serious causes of medical malpractice

One wonders how this could happen in a country with such a high quality and well-regulated health care system. According to The American Hospital Association the most common cause of medication errors is incomplete patient information – which includes not knowing about a patients’ medical history, previous treatments/diagnoses, allergies or current medications. Incomplete patient information is also one of the most serious causes of medical malpractice and can have devastating health effects on its victims. Another cause of medical mistakes related to medication errors is the fact that many pharmaceutical companies rush new medicine onto the market without thorough trials and experiments to test for its safety.

The miscommunication of drug orders within a private practice or hospital setting is another common cause of medication errors. Misunderstandings between medical staff may result from messy and/or illegible handwriting, confusion over decimal points, mix-ups between drugs with similar sounding names and even medical abbreviations that have been shortened to the point of being unclear. The noise and stress level in a hospital and the surrounding chaos can also lead to further confusion and medication error.

More causes of medication error include: – Faulty medical equipment

  • Mishaps related to blood transfusions such as giving someone an incompatible blood type
  • Misinterpretation of medical orders
  • Misdiagnosis leading to an improper course of medical treatment
  • Misinterpretation of blood work and other test results

The people most vulnerable to the ill effects of medication errors are children and people over the age of 60. Small children are particularly vulnerable to the risk of accidental overdoses due to miscalculations based on their weight. The elderly, who tend to have more than one prescription medicine at a time, are also more likely to be affected by medication errors. In addition, parents of small children and the elderly might not know what questions to ask their health care provider during a visit. For example, they may not know to ask for a list of side effects caused by the medication.

Although many hospitals and pharmaceutical companies have begun to take precautions, such as requiring the computer entry of all medication orders and differentiating between brand names of medications, medication errors are still a widespread problem in hospitals, doctor’s offices and retirement homes.

If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of medication error, you need to contact a Rhode Island medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible.

Medication errors can occur at various stages of the medication use process

Medication errors can occur at various stages of the medication use process, from prescribing to dispensing and administration. These errors can have serious consequences for patients. Several factors contribute to medication errors, and they often result from a combination of these factors. Here are some common causes of medication errors:

  1. Communication Issues:
    • Poor communication between healthcare professionals: Miscommunication between doctors, nurses, and pharmacists can lead to errors in prescribing, dispensing, or administering medications.
    • Inadequate patient-provider communication: Lack of clear communication between healthcare providers and patients regarding medication instructions can lead to errors in administration.
  2. Prescribing Errors:
    • Illegible handwriting: Handwriting that is difficult to read can lead to misinterpretation of the prescription.
    • Abbreviation confusion: The use of abbreviations in prescriptions can lead to misunderstandings and errors. Different healthcare professionals may interpret abbreviations differently.
  3. Dosage Errors:
    • Miscalculation of doses: Incorrect calculation of medication doses, especially in pediatric or elderly patients, can lead to over- or under-dosing.
    • Confusion between metric and non-metric units: Mixing up units of measurement can result in dosage errors.
  4. Medication Storage and Labeling:
    • Similar packaging and labeling: Medications with similar names or packaging can be easily confused, leading to the administration of the wrong drug.
    • Inadequate labeling: Unclear or incomplete labeling on medication containers can contribute to errors.
  5. Dispensing Errors:
    • Pharmacy errors: Mistakes made by pharmacists, such as dispensing the wrong medication or the wrong dosage, can occur due to factors like heavy workload and distractions.
    • Automation errors: Dependence on automated dispensing systems can introduce errors if not properly monitored.
  6. Administration Errors:
    • Incorrect route of administration: Administering a medication through the wrong route (e.g., oral instead of intravenous) can lead to ineffective treatment or adverse effects.
    • Timing errors: Administering medication at the wrong time or frequency can affect its efficacy.
  7. Healthcare System Factors:
    • Workflow issues: High workload, fatigue, and time pressures in healthcare settings can contribute to errors.
    • Lack of standardized processes: Inconsistencies in procedures and lack of standardization can increase the risk of errors.
  8. Patient Factors:
    • Non-adherence: Patients not following prescribed instructions or not communicating accurately about their medications can contribute to errors.
    • Limited health literacy: Patients with low health literacy may have difficulty understanding medication instructions, increasing the risk of errors.

To minimize medication errors, healthcare providers implement strategies such as electronic prescribing systems, barcode technology, clear communication protocols, and ongoing training for healthcare professionals. Additionally, involving patients in their care and promoting awareness about medications can help reduce the risk of errors.

Legal Notice per Rules of Professional Responsibility: The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers and attorneys in the general practice of law, but does not license or certify any lawyer / attorney as an expert or specialist in any field of practice. While this firm maintains joint responsibility, most cases of this type are referred to other attorneys for principle responsibility.

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