The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that medication errors lead to approximately 1.3 million injuries annually and an average of more than one death daily in the United States. They can be made by a variety of health care professionals including doctors, nurses, paramedics, other hospital staff, psychiatrists, pharmacists, and pharmacy staff.
The most common medication errors include:
- Ordering or prescribing the wrong medication - possibly due to misdiagnosis
- Ordering or prescribing the wrong dose or amount - can happen due to not paying attention to the concentration or taking the patient's age or other conditions into account (such as allergies)
- Ordering or prescribing a medication that is interacts dangerously with another medication the patient is taking or has recently taken - can be due to not asking about medications the patient is taking or is allergic to (including over-the-counter drugs), or a failure to review the patient's complete medical history
- Failing to keep up-to-date with the latest drug information
- Filling the prescription incorrectly - can be due to a poorly written prescription, improper abbreviation, ambiguous dosing instruction, or poor pharmacy practices such as prescription mislabeling
- Patient's failure to follow instructions - ambiguous verbal or written instructions by the doctor or pharmacist
- Failing to monitor the patient's use of and reactions to a medication
Steps you can take to prevent medication errors include:
- Make sure you understand doctor and pharmacist instructions and follow them to the letter. Ask your doctor if any instructions are contradictory or unclear. If you have difficulty understanding instructions, bring a family member to your doctor appointments.
- To avoid dangerous interactions, provide your healthcare providers with a list of every prescription and over-the-counter drug you take or have recently taken, including any herbal remedies.
- Let your doctor know if you've experienced any bad reactions to a medication. Bad reactions may include rashes, hives, or wheezing.
- Familiarize yourself with the potential side effects of your medications so you can immediately recognize them and inform your physician should they occur.
- Don't share your prescriptions with others or take medications prescribed for someone else.
- Keep track of the medications you are taking, perhaps by marking a "medication calendar" or using a pill organizer.
- Keep medications in their original containers.
- As a way to "double check" when filling a prescription, ask your pharmacist what the medication is for. Be alert to any changes in the instructions or medication's appearance when refilling your prescription.
As more medications enter the market, medication errors are likely to increase. And regardless of the causes, medication errors tend to result in serious consequences. But the causes can be complex and difficult to prove. A skillful and dedicated attorney can help you and/or your loved ones recover the compensation you deserve for the suffering and financial setbacks you are likely to incur.