Medications are vital for health care. But medication errors injure hundreds of thousands of patients in this country each year. There are ways, however, to prevent this medical malpractice.
Medication error explained
Medication errors are preventable events involving the incorrect use of medications. Errors causing harm are preventable adverse drug events. A medication error that did not harm anyone is called a potential adverse drug event.
Medication errors can happen to anyone and take place anywhere such as a patient’s home, doctor’s office, hospital, pharmacy, and senior living facility. Children face greater risks because they generally need different doses.
A medication error is, for example, taking an over-the-counter drug like Tylenol with acetaminophen while simultaneously taking a prescription drug with the same ingredient. This poses the risk of liver damage.
Another example is taking Prozac, Sarafem or another depression medication containing fluoxetine with the migraine drug sumatriptan. Taking these drugs together can cause the potentially life-threatening condition, serotonin syndrome.
The most typical causes include:
- Poor communication among doctors.
- Poor communication between patients and their doctors.
- Similar-sounding drug names.
- Medications that look identical.
- Medical abbreviations.
Practitioners can help prevent errors by replacing handwriting with using a computer to enter and digitally send or print prescription details.
Medication reconciliation is another possible solution. This safety process involves comparing the list of medications the practitioner has with the medications that the patient is currently taking.
This can prevent missing medications, duplicate medications, dosing errors and drug interactions. Reconciliation should occur when doctors are changed, during hospital admission and discharge, or anytime patient care and medications are changed.
Patents should know the following information when they start a new medication:
- Its brand or generic name.
- Its purpose and when results appear.
- The length of time it should be taken.
- What to do if a dose is missed.
- What to do if more than the recommended dose is taken.
- Food, beverages, other medications, or activities that should be stopped.
- Possible side effects and what should be done if they occur.
- Interference with other medications.
Patients should take precautions:
- Ask doctors to explain anything that they do not understand.
- Keep a current list of all medications, non-prescription drugs, and supplements.
- Store medications in the original labeled containers.
- Organize medications in a pillbox or automatic pill dispenser.
- Save information that accompanies medications.
- If possible, use the same pharmacy for all prescriptions.
- Assure that the doctor ordered the prescription that is picked up.
- Do not give prescriptions to another person.
- Only take medications that are prescribed to you.
Victims of medication errors may be entitled to compensation. Attorneys can help them file a lawsuit for this relief.