According to the American Pharmacists Association, more than a million Americans are injured each year due to medication errors. Medical malpractice as a result of prescription error may involve the doctor who ordered the prescription, the pharmacist filling the prescription or the pharmacy itself. Any error with a prescription can have severe consequences, including: overdose, adverse reactions, toxicity or death. While most prescription errors are unintentional, this does not necessarily excuse the individuals involved with either ordering or filling a prescription from being held accountable.
Most Common Prescription Errors
Data entry errors are the top cause of prescription errors in the United States, according to the American Medical Association. Errors can occur at any pharmacy; even larger pharmacies that fill millions of prescriptions each year. All it takes is one mistake and the failure to catch that mistake to yield potentially dangerous results. Some of the most common prescription errors include:
- Incorrect medication placed in your bottle
- Medication with incorrect dosage information
- Being given another patient’s prescription
- Pharmacy failing to contact doctor about unclear prescription information
- Pharmacy failing to identify drug allergies or interactions
- Confusing one drug with another due to similar sounding/spelled drug names
Top Five Drugs Resulting in Adverse Reactions*
Note: Errors with any of these drugs may cause potentially serious reactions in patients, especially when dosage errors are involved.
*According to a report by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.
Reasons for Prescription Errors
The consequences of prescription errors can be serious. While human error is possible, medical malpractice may still be an issue if certain precautions weren’t taken or if some type of negligenceoccurred. Every state has some type of laws or regulations regarding patient safety. Even minor reactions such as vomiting, headaches, nausea, diarrhea or lack of sleep due to a prescription error may entitle you to appropriate compensation. Common reasons given for prescription errors include:
- Overworked pharmacy staff or pharmacists
- Pharmacist failing to follow safety features such as double-checking prescriptions
- Failure to communicate with the doctor, doctor’s office or other medical facility
- Solely depending on automated systems to catch any prescription errors
- Staffing issues due to budget cuts and other cost-cutting efforts
Recoveries from Prescription Error
In most states, the law allows for financial recovery from prescription errors due to negligence. A lawsuit involving medication errors may involve anyone responsible for not catching the error – from the doctor the issued the prescription to the pharmacy that dispensed it. Common recoveries in a medical malpractice case involving prescription error(s) include:
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Lost income
- Physical injuries
Prescription Errors in Nursing Homes
According to a 2006 study by the Institute of Medicine, patients in nursing homes and long-term care facilities are most susceptible to prescription errors. The report found that when errors did occur, they weren’t likely to be reported to either the patient or the patient’s family. Signs of possible prescription errors in nursing home patients may include:
- Sudden illnesses without any clear explanation
- Noticeable lack of energy
- Uncharacteristic and sudden changes in behavior or mood
How to Avoid Prescription Errors
There is no way to avoid all prescription errors, but efforts can be made to minimize such errors. Even pursuing litigation for minor prescription errors can send a message to pharmacies and doctor’s offices to be reevaluate or modify existing procedures. Some ways to avoid prescription errors include:
- Going over your prescription with your doctor
- Calling your doctor or pharmacist if your medicine is a different color, size or shape
- Calling your doctor if you notice that the dosage instructions have changed
- Asking what the medication is supposed to look like when it is prescribed
Doctor’s offices and pharmacies should have some procedures in place to minimize prescription errors. Ask what procedures are currently in place. Some hospitals, doctor’s offices or pharmacies won’t disclose such information unless it is requested by an attorney. While there are steps you can take to avoid prescription errors, it is not the legal responsibility of the patient to prevent such errors.
While the most common type of prescription error is some type of data entry error by either a doctor’s office or at a pharmacy, even receiving the incorrect medication or dosage by a nurse a hospital may be considered medical negligence. Mistakes involving prescription errors may occur in hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities or any place where prescription medications are dispensed. If prescription error is suspected, it is recommended that a qualified medical malpractice attorney be contacted to at least determine if you have a case.