Medical errors in United States hospitals occur at alarming rates. In fact, one in three patients admitted to a hospital will experience one.
One of the most common forms of medical errors have to do with the prescription, dispersion, or administration of medication. Each year, at least 1.5 million Americans are harmed, made ill, or killed by medication errors.
How can you tell if you have been victim to medication errors, and what are your next steps in making things right? Read on to find out.
What Exactly Are Medication Errors?
They are defined as any preventable event that leads to or may lead to wrongful use of the medication or harm of the patient.
They can occur while the healthcare professional, patient, or consumer is in possession of the medication. This includes any error while you are being prescribed or administered medication.
You can also commit medication error, without it being your fault. For example, say you take medication following directions from a medical professional.
Because you are following their directions, they are responsible for your actions. If that medication interacts poorly with another drug they knew about, it’s not your fault.
Medication errors are only one form of medical malpractice. Have you been mistreated in a way that is not relevant to medication? For more information on what counts as medical malpractice in all its forms, check out our page here.
When Can They Happen?
Medication errors can occur under a variety of circumstances. Here are some of the elements that contribute to proper medication failure.
- Patient Information
- Important patient information consists of name, age, birth date, weight, allergies, and diagnosis. This must all be up to date.
- This information can be found by scanning the bar code located on the patient’s wristband. However, medical staff sometimes choose to bypass this important safety step. This is because scanning and reading this information adds to medication administration time.
- Drug Information
- It is important that drug information is accurate, current, and readily available.
- Adequate Communication
- Medication errors can easily occur when medical staff don’t communicate with each other.
- In a 2001 case, a woman was administered drugs in a way that caused them to be absorbed all at once. She went into cardiac arrest, and was resuscitated successfully. The medical staff failed to communicate this error. Because of this, she was given the drugs the exact same way the next day. She suffered the same consequences.
- Drug Packaging, Labeling, and Nomenclature
- Misleading labels are common contributors to errors. Some drug names are very similar and are then mixed up by medical staff.
- Medication Storage and Distribution
- Many nurses admit to stashing medications outside the pharmacy for convenience sake. This results in patient double dosing.
- Additionally, high-alert drugs could be greatly benefited by restricted access.
- High alert drugs are those likely to harm a patient if administered incorrectly. They should be given to medical professionals with more education or special training.
- Drug Delivery Systems
- Confusion and error can arise from delivery devices that are too similar. For example, syringes used for oral drugs should not be compatible with syringes used for I.V. tubing.
- Environmental Factors
- Even well-trained medical professionals can make mistakes due to factors at their workplace. These could be heavy workloads, insufficient lighting, cluttered workspaces, or interruptions. These all increase the likelihood of improper medication administration.
- Staff Education
- Nurses and staff need to be informed about new medications and protocols.
- Hospital staffs would be bettered from education on past and potential medication errors.
- Education on these topics is important. It leads to a knowledge of past preventable mistakes, and an awareness of mistakes in general. This promotes a more cautious attitude toward medication administering.
- Education on consequences to actions that result in damage to patients is also good. It encourages hospital staff to be more aware and careful.
- Patient Education
- Patients should be taught a good deal of information about their medication. Often they are taught only its name and how to take it.
- They should also know its appearance, dosage, side effects, drug interactions, and purpose.
Whose Fault Is It When Medication Errors Occur?
When the amount of errors was first exposed, they were identified to be the result of various systematic errors.
Many methods and standards were put in place to solve these issues. They were far from completely successful. So now, the approach that focuses on blaming the system alone is losing support.
The focus of the blame is switching to medical professionals, including doctors and nurses.
However, due to government lobbying and hospital policy, the default protection does not always fall on the patient. This is why it’s important that you are aware of your rights to protection and compensation.
Your decision to pursue your rights is often the most certain way to ensure consequences for the medical staff. This helps prevent what happened to you from happening to anyone else.
For more information on if you have grounds to sue for medication errors, check out our article here.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
Whether or not medication errors have happened to you or someone you love in the past, here are some tips to ensure they don’t happen to you in the future.
Firstly, follow advice that is generally recommended for any safe hospital experience. Have a loved one with you to help keep you grounded and ask questions and represent you if you are unable.
Do research into the hospital and physician you are thinking about. Check the hospital’s reviews and statistics in the past. Look at facts both about your particular procedure, and general recovery, like infection and mortality rates.
Make sure your physician is board certified. If possible, go with a recommendation from a doctor or a loved one you trust.
If all else fails, and you still experience a medication error, be aware of your rights to compensation. Do you feel as if you or a loved one has been a victim of a medication error? Check out this page for more information, specifics, and what to do next.