Why do so many medication errors occur in nursing homes?
When reading statistics on the frequency of medication errors in nursing homes, it is natural to wonder why so many occur. Prescription medications are often very potent and facilities with long-term care programs should be centered on an understanding of how to keep their residents safe. Unfortunately, there is a wide range of possible factors that can come together to create an environment where medication errors take place. Some nursing homes have consistently low rates, while others are shockingly high. Contributing causes to medication errors include:
- Poor communication between staff
- Frequent distractions
- Frequent changes in staff duties or personnel
- Poorly managed pharmacy
- Confusing policies and procedures
- Passing out meds during a shift change
- Incorrect labeling
- Overworked or overwhelmed staff, short staffed hours
- Transcription errors or poor handwriting
- Inadequate training
- Carelessness and human error
- Poorly designed or written instruction on the medication's packaging
How do I know if my loved one is getting the correct medication?
It is impossible to know whether or not a resident of a nursing home is receiving the correct medication unless you watch them take it every time. It is likely that the facility's staff will be more careful to give your loved one their medication correctly when you are present. You can still observe the procedure for each med pass and notice whether or not the staff watches the residents take their medication, records each drug administration, and if the pass occurs at the same time every day.
You can also ask your loved one if they know what medications they are receiving and well if they are cognizant enough to be aware of their own health concerns and medical conditions. However, if they suffer from some form of dementia or Alzheimer's, they may not be able to keep track of patterns and incongruities. Additionally, they may not want to inconvenience nursing staff by speaking up about incorrect medication.
Can I get access to my loved one's medical records?
Whether or not you have access to a resident's medical records depends upon their state of health and your relationship to them. A resident has a right to access their medical records at any time, and they may choose to share them with anyone, whether they are family or friends. If you are designated as your loved one's legal representative, you may also request a copy of their medical records. Designation of a family member as a legal representative most frequently occurs when the resident is first placed in the home but can be requested at a later date as well.
Federal statutes dictate that a nursing home or long-term care facility resident has the right:
(i) Upon an oral or written request, to access all records pertaining to himself or herself including current clinical records within 24 hours (excluding weekends and holidays); and
(ii) After receipt of his or her records for inspection, to purchase at a cost not to exceed the community standard photocopies of the records or any portions of them upon request and 2 working days advance notice to the facility.
Will the nursing home alert me if they change my loved one's medications?
If you are the legal representative for your loved one, the nursing home is legally obligated to alert you if they change the resident's medication. In fact, any change in the resident's medical status should be communicated to the resident clearly, in terms that they can understand, and communicated to the legal representative if one exists. Patients have the right to be “fully informed about [their] medical condition, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements.” Nursing homes should also clearly communicate when a course of treatment is changed, any injuries to the resident that require a medical consultation, and changes in the resident's physical or mental state. The resident should also be involved in choosing their own doctor.
Who is ultimately responsible for medication errors?
Although the medication that your loved one receives passes through the hands of pharmacists, nurses, and possibly caretakers, the most common liable entity is the nursing home itself. This is because the nursing home is responsible for instituting practices and safeguards which prevent medication errors, many of which result from improper management or training of staff. Nurses and/or doctors can be held liable if they failed to note an adverse drug interaction that should have been caught. Alternatively, pharmacies may be liable for the effects of medication errors if they deliver the wrong medication or improper administration instructions. An experienced personal injury attorney can help investigate your case and determine which parties were responsible for a medication error.
What steps can I take if I suspect the nursing home is mismanaging medication?
If you are concerned that your loved one might be receiving incorrect medication, you are likely considering how to take action to protect them. It can be particularly difficult to ascertain when medication errors are occurring because their effects might not be as obvious as those of physical or even emotional abuse. It may also feel like a medication error or two is not serious enough to warrant a formal lawsuit. However, it is important to remember that medication errors may point to a more critical problem with management and safety at an institution and may be a sign that other forms of abuse are present.
The first step to take, if you are only concerned with medication errors and not other forms of abuse, is to ask for a copy of your loved one's medical records, ask to speak with their doctor, or accompany them to a doctor's appointment. If you see any dangerous signs, such as a sudden change in mental state or physical health, it may indicate that incorrect medication is being administered, and you should take them to the doctor immediately. You can express your concerns to the doctor, who can assess the patient's responses and advise you as to the possibility that medication errors are occurring. Additionally, you have the option to pursue a personal injury lawsuit which will instigate an investigation into the nursing home's practices and protocols. Trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian are ready to hear your case and advise you on the best path to protecting your loved one's interests. Call them today at 800.529.6162 or contact them online.