Medication Errors

Medication errors are a serious subset of medical malpractice cases. These cases take many forms.

They can happen because a patient might not be able to give a medical provider complete and accurate history due to their illness.

They can happen because of a transcription error where a pharmacy fills a prescription incorrectly.

They can happen when a physician simply makes an error in judgment and prescribes or orders an inappropriate medication.

They can happen despite the best of intentions by a medical team because of lack of rest, overwork, or simply by mistake.

But the truth is that a medication error can be deadly, and when a medication error occurs, the only smart thing to do is to have an attorney who specializes in medical malpractice review your case.

Why do medication errors happen?

One form of medication error is when a medication that is contra-indicated is nonetheless prescribed, ordered, and administered to a patient, causing harm to the patient.

A contraindication is a specific situation in which a drug, procedure, or surgery should not be used because it may be harmful to the person. – MedlinePlus.Gov

Imagine a patient who has a severe allergy to a specific medication. This patient could have a complicated medical history and need the medication to treat a host of symptoms, that overlap with and mask the symptoms caused by the adverse reaction itself.

Some patients will present to emergency rooms with a host of concerning symptoms and a medication list with more than a dozen active medications. Taking an accurate and thorough history can be absolutely critical to identifying potential allergic reactions as well as critical to assisting future care providers who will rely on the first information that is put onto a patient’s chart.

This can involve a physician having to call a patient’s primary care office, having to call or speak to family members, or gather other sources of collateral information, and/or it could require a physician to review older or earlier charts they might have accessed through the electronic medical system available at the hospital, or office.

It is at this level of detail where mistakes are often made in the provision of medical care.

What is the greatest cause of medication errors?

Lack of patient information is perhaps the greatest cause of medication errors.

The treating physician undoubtedly has a duty to make reasonable efforts to obtain accurate information relevant to their treatment. This can include an obligation to perform an investigation to gather the relevant information.

Imagine a patient who comes into the ER who is obviously suffering from a medication allergy or even one whose conditions show that a medication allergy should be in the differential diagnosis.

These reactions can include a syndrome referred to as TENS, or toxic epidermal necrolysis. The skin literally is in the process of falling off the body. This is a fast-acting condition that progresses rapidly.

The patient could be unconscious and unable to provide the physician with what medications they take, they’ve changed, or they may have recently added. Under the circumstances, it might be required for the training physician to page those care providers or pharmacies who have better information than him or her, so they can ensure their list of active medications is accurate.

Unfortunately, communication failures play into almost every medical malpractice case I have ever worked on.

Information is communicated in the healthcare setting in weird ways. End-of-shift reports are given between nurses and physicians. Information is entered into both paper and electronic charts that are only accessible to those later providers who actively go and seek it out.

The results of imaging studies are communicated in an initial read, and later more formally in a written report, and at every step, there are opportunities for information to be lost, misunderstood, or omitted. All of this to the detriment of patient care.

Medication errors can happen when a patient’s clinical status is not accurately reported.

A patient’s clinical status may not be accurately reported after an overnight shift or improperly and inaccurately communicated between providers. When input and output data is trivialized or when information another healthcare provider entered into the chart is taken for granted as gospel simply because it was written down, errors often occur. For example, an initial medication list is never double-checked or further investigated over many days by many providers, maybe even over weeks of treatment.

Medication errors can happen because not every patient is created equal.

The elderly, the very young, those with diminished renal function or underlying chronic conditions, all of these groups metabolize and handle different types of drugs in different ways. Certain drugs are metabolized in the liver. Other drugs are metabolized throughout other systems in the body.

Each patient must be evaluated as an individual when medication dosing decisions are being made. Even gender can play a role in drug metabolization. While on its surface a medication error might seem like a simple case, in truth, a medication error case is a subset of medical malpractice.

Pursuing a medical malpractice case.

Without exception, medical malpractice cases are difficult and expensive to pursue. If you or a loved one has suffered from a medication error, the only smart thing to do is to consult with an attorney who has experience in this area.

If you have questions about a potential medication error, contact the attorneys at Michaels and Booth. We can be reached at (800) 848-6168, and the initial consultation is free.

View Slide Deck: Medication Errors

View Video: Medication Errors and Medical Malpractice


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