We like to think we are in good hands when we trust doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals with our health and well-being. Much of the time we are proven right. Unfortunately, doctors are just like anyone else, and can make mistakes. Those mistakes may be innocent, but when they involve prescription mistakes, the results can be disastrous.
Medication errors may be more common than you think. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), medication errors cause at least one death per day, and injure over a million people every year in the United States. If a doctor, pharmacist or other health care provider acted negligently in prescribing or providing a medication, their negligence may give rise to a medical malpractice claim for a resulting death or injury.
There are all sorts of reasons that a person may be harmed through a prescription error. When a doctor talks to their patient about a medication, they should clearly communicate the purpose of the drug, how and when to take the medication, and what to avoid while using the medication. Sometimes doctors are in a hurry, or have other matters on their mind, but they should not put your health at risk.
Doctors are renowned for their cryptic writing style, especially when it comes to filling out prescriptions. Most of the time this is not a problem, but because there are so many medications out there, with more and more developed every day, some information needs to be clearly communicated. Some prescriptions have similar names, and unclear writing or improper abbreviations could lead to a mix-up in which drug you should be taking.
For example, Celebrex, Cerebyx, and Celexa all have a lot of similarity in their spelling, but are all three completely different drugs. One of them treats pain associated with arthritis, another is a seizure medication, and the third is used to treat depression. These are all very different medical conditions, and the medications are very different types of drugs. A mix-up could not only result in failure to treat the appropriate issue, but could result in an allergic reaction, a change in mental status, or other serious adverse reactions.
Another common area for mistake that could lead to injury is the use of ambiguous or vague instructions. Improper abbreviations can be confusing for the patient or even for the pharmacist filling the prescription. For example, the abbreviation “q.d.”, from the Latin quaque die, means once per day. This can be confused with “q.i.d.”, or quater in die, which means 4 times per day. That kind of mistake can effectively quadruple the intended dosage of a drug.
Since 2000, the FDA has received almost 100,000 medication error reports. However, this reporting is voluntary, so the actual number is likely much, much higher. One example of a medication error that was reported to the FDA was the misuse of Tussionex, a prescription cough medicine. The medication is not supposed to be used on children younger than six, and the labeled dosing calls for waiting 12 hours between doses. However, some doctors and other health care professionals were prescribing the medication to children under the approved age group, and more often than the labeled 12 hour dose period. This resulted in life-threatening breathing problems from the effects of the narcotic ingredient, hydrocodone.
Hospital Medication Error
Prescription errors don't just happen in the doctor's office. The hospital can also make mistakes when it comes to getting you the right medication and properly administering the medication in an inpatient setting. Hospitals can make a medication omission error, where they fail to administer an ordered dose to a patient. Hospital staff can also commit an improper dose error, giving higher or lower than the prescribed dose to a patient. In some cases, they may administer an expired drug, which may compromise the chemical integrity. They may even mix up the patients or their charts, and give the wrong thing to the wrong person.
Pharmacy Medication Error
Even if the doctor properly prescribed, explained, and advised the patient on a medication, a mistake in how the pharmacy fills the prescription could have serious adverse effects. If a pharmacist is confused by the doctor's prescription, or if there is some ambiguity, they should contact the health care provider, to avoid a medication error. A pharmacist should not fill a prescription with expired drugs, or drugs which have been compromised. They may make mistakes when filling prescriptions for “look-alike” drugs, or use improper drug strengths. A pharmacist may even make a simple mistake from feeling tired or overworked, but that mistake could put your health at risk.
Dangerous Drug Interactions
When many people go to the doctor or hospital, they are not given just one medication, but may come home with a handful of prescriptions. This may be in addition to regularly prescribed medications they are taking, or prescriptions for treating other unrelated ailments. The mixture of multiple medications can cause an adverse drug reaction, which by some estimates, may be responsible for more than 100,000 deaths per year. However, the numbers may even be higher.
If a doctor doesn't take a full medical history of their patient, they may be putting them at risk for an adverse drug interaction. This includes finding out about a patient's allergies, vitamins and herbal supplements, prescription and over the counter medications, and family history. The more medications the patient takes, the greater the chance at some interaction.
Discovering Prescription Errors
When a healthcare professional, including doctors, nurses, surgeons, and pharmacists make a mistake that results in injury or death, they may be liable to the patient or their family. It can be difficult for even health care professionals to discover a prescription error. Drugs often involve complex chemical interactions with various systems in the body, and may affect each person slightly differently.
It takes more than an understanding of how medications work to discover prescription errors. The known effects and side-effects of medications are changing all the time as more and more people use the prescriptions in a real world setting. Because things can be so complex, many prescription errors go unnoticed. However, a careful review of medical records, physician testimony, medical studies and review by medical experts may expose wrongdoing that could result in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
The victims of medication errors may be our children or our parents, because the young and elderly can be at greater risk of drug reactions and more vulnerable to dosing problems. If you even suspect that you or someone you love has been the victim of a prescription error, you should seek proper medical care and the counsel of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Even if you have questions about an error a week or a year after an event, in many instances you may still be able to bring a claim for damages. The statute of limitations in most jurisdictions gives the victim of malpractice a certain amount of time after the incident or injury was discovered.
The effects of a prescription error can be devastating for a patient or their family. Medication errors can result in permanent injury, or even death. While the process of healing can impose a significant financial burden on individuals and their families, the Gilman & Bedigian team is fully equipped to handle the complex steps involved in bringing a malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of malpractice litigation experience, will focus on getting you the compensation you deserve, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.