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Bad Medicine: 9 Ways that Medication Errors Can Harm You

Every year in the United States, there are as many as 9,000 people who die because of a medication error, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). The NIH estimates that medication errors affect some 7 million patients per year, with a staggering healthcare cost that exceeds $40 billion annually. As patients, we need to advocate for ourselves to help avoid medication errors by knowing how these mistakes happen.

According to the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention. medication error is defined as “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the healthcare professional, patient, or consumer.” A medication error can be caused by the prescribing physician, the doctor or nurse administering medication, a pharmacist, or the patient or the patient’s caregiver.

There are many ways that a medication error can occur, but here are the 9 most common types of medication errors.

  1. Incorrect Strength. Overdose or underdose can be the result of the wrong strength of the right medication, due to human error or facility flaws at many steps in the healthcare system. Medications with similar packaging but very different strengths are often stored side-by-side at medical facilities, leading to easy errors. Other times, the wrong delivery measure (e.g., the wrong spoon or syringe) is provided or used by mistake, leading to an incorrect strength of dose.
  2. Incorrect Dosage Form. This is similar to an error of medication strength, but with the dosage form, the error is in how the drug is formulated to be absorbed by the body. For instance, the same drug can have an immediate-release form as well as a version with a coating that releases the medication over a period of time, and getting the dosage form correct is extremely important.
  3. Incorrect Rate. Another fundamental key to overdosing or underdosing problems is how often the patient receives the medication. This can be due to a mistake in prescribing, including illegible handwriting, or a mistake at the pharmacy, or a lack of patient understanding of pharmaceutical shorthand. It can also happen in a medical setting as an error during intravenous delivery or infusions.
  4. Incorrect Dose. Sometimes the dosage rate is correct, but it is not followed properly. This refers to mistakes in how much of the medication the patient is getting versus what is intended or recommended. These errors include failure by the patient or medical personnel to deliver the prescribed amount (overdose/underdose) or failure to meet the scheduled dosages (skipped doses or extra doses).
  5. Incorrect Duration. This refers to situations when the medication is administered for a period that is too short to be effective or too long, which can cause harmful side effects. An incorrect duration error can occur during prescription, from the doctor or pharmacy, but it can also be due to hospital or nursing home personnel who fail to meet prescribed regimens. It can also be a failure of patient compliance. For instance, many patients make the mistake of discontinuing prescriptions when they begin to feel signs of recovery.
  6. Incorrect Preparation or Patient Action. Some medications require specific mixtures or need to be diluted with specific substances before being administered, and mistakes during this process can lead to overdosage or other issues. Without the proper education, patients can also make mistakes that make the medications ineffective or even dangerous. For instance, trying to split medication, chewing medication that is meant to be swallowed, or exposing medication to high heat through hot beverages or cooking.
  7. Incorrect Timing. Various medications should be given at specific times, usually referring to coordinating administration with food.  A failure to educate the patient or patient compliance can lead to under or overdosing.
  8. Allergy or Contraindication. It is important for prescribing physicians to understand the patient’s medical history and to follow the patient’s reaction to medication to ensure that the medication and dosage is appropriate for the patient’s known allergens or contraindications.
  9. Expired Product: This occurs when the patient is given or taking medication that has lost its effectiveness or is otherwise chemically altered due to improper storage.

Dealing with the Systemic Problem of Medication Errors 

The United States is blessed with a workforce of the most well trained and educated healthcare professionals in the world. Unfortunately, the system is undermined by corporate greed, which often puts profit over patient safety. As a result, preventable medical errors happen far too often. By some estimates, medical errors are the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. Medication errors, including prescription errors, administration errors, and pharmacy mistakes are major source of medical errors that lead to deaths and other serious medical issues. When these mistakes do happen, there is a very real cost to the victims, in terms of suffering and the vast expenses associated with recovery. The for-profit healthcare system is not likely to admit mistakes when they are responsible. You need a professional with expertise in medical malpractice to get the facts of your case and the financial recovery to ensure the well-being of victims of medical malpractice for the damages they face in the past, present, and future.  For a free, no-obligation consultation, please call Brown & Barron at (410) 698-1717 or contact us online by clicking here.

9 medical errors
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