The term 'medication error' covers a whole manner of sins. What is a medication error? Perhaps it is better to explain by providing examples of medication errors.
Example A - your physician is aware you are allergic to a medication but prescribes it anyway;
Example B - Other medications you are currently taking are contra-indications to a new medication your physician just prescribed, but she doesn't read the medication package insert and now you are taking medications which may prevent the others from being effective, or worse, their combination may cause injury;
Example C - Medicine A can only be taken by people who can walk or are otherwise mobile, and physician prescribes it for his double amputee patient who cannot get out of bed;
Example D - Pharmacy receives a prescription for medication A but fills your bottle with medication B;
Example E - Pharmacy fills correct prescription but prints wrong dosing directions so you are now taking the medication 9 times a day, rather than 3 times per day ordered by your doctor. An overdose occurs causing injury.
There are almost too many examples of medication errors to list. And many players in the health care field can cause or fail to prevent medication errors, from physicians, to nurses and pharmacists.
Medication errors are such a big deal in health care today that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has been researching errors these errors while attempting to create and implement programs and rules which would prevent such errors.
How is the FDA doing at minimizing these errors and the resulting needless injuries and deaths?
Well, it must be a difficult challenge because the FDA admits 'Improving patient safety continues to be a challenge.' Final Summary of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Action Items - Doing What Counts for Patient Safety: Federal Actions to Reduce Medical Errors and Their Impact, February 2001, available at: (dead link removed)
So what can be done to prevent medication errors?
Keep an active record of all medications you are taking. Write it down and provide copies to all physicians.
Research any medication allergies. How do you know you are allergic? What is the generic name of the drug to which your are allergic - know it all.
Tell your pharmacist about all medications you are taking. He may only have records of medications dispensed at his pharmacy - so give them notice of all medications.
Tell your family and provide them with a list of your medications. It is likely that in an emergency you will not be able to speak for yourself.
Speak to your physician - ask why she is prescribing each medication? What are the side effects? Have you been on this medication before? Keep a record.
Unsure about dosage? Unsure about combination with other medications? CALL YOUR PHYSICIAN... Call, and write down the name of who you spoke with and what they said. KEEP NOTES.
The Federal Government has also produced a list of how to prevent medication errors.
What is recommended? Pretty similar list to ours - sadly, both lists are created for consumers and patients. And it is important to note that it is not your duty to prevent all medication errors. It is the duty of your healthcare provider to do so, but if they fail, your diligence may be the difference between another preventable injury or death from a medication error and a close call.
So please, be organized and diligent about your medications. And if you have had a medication error occur, and have suffered injury as a result, please do not hesitate to contact our firm.
About the author:
Lauren Ellerman is an attorney with Frith Law Firm in Roanoke, Virginia. She concentrates her practice on medical malpractice, nursing home abuse, nursing home neglect, lead paint poisoning, and business torts. (Dead link removed)