Prescription-medication errors are a common form of medical negligence. Some studies estimate that over 1.5 million Americans are harmed by medication errors each year, with 7,000 to 9,000 being fatal.
Sometimes a patient is at fault by failing to follow clear instructions. In other circumstances, however, physicians (and/or affiliated hospitals), nurses, pharmacists, and drug manufacturers may be responsible for medical malpractice. The most widespread mistakes include patients receiving the wrong medication and being prescribed incorrect dosages. In addition, healthcare providers might fail to account for a patient’s drug allergies, overlook potential adverse drug interactions, or neglect to inform patients of common side effects. Manufacturer and pharmacy mislabeling issues can also harm patients.
Common Causes for Medication Negligence
- Miscommunication between healthcare providers regarding medication orders or dosage instructions
- Failure to properly read a patient's medical history and record of allergies or medication sensitivities
- Prescription of the wrong medication or incorrect dosage by a healthcare provider
- Administration of medication by an untrained or unqualified healthcare professional
- Inadequate monitoring of a patient's response to medication, leading to failure to recognize and address adverse reactions or complications
- Lack of proper medication storage or handling procedures, resulting in contamination or degradation of the medication
- Prescription of a medication that interacts negatively with another medication the patient is taking, or with a pre-existing medical condition
- Failure to follow established medication protocols or guidelines, leading to improper dosing or administration of medication
- Insufficient patient education regarding medication use and potential side effects, resulting in incorrect or noncompliant use of medication.
Miscommunication between physicians and pharmacists can play a significant role, too. Many medication names sound alike when spoken or have similar spellings to others, which can lead to errors. Notorious physician penmanship can contribute as well. In many areas of the country, the transition from handwritten prescriptions to electronic prescriptions has been a godsend.
Precautions to Take to Avoid Medication Errors
- Keep an updated list of all medications, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and supplements, and share it with all healthcare providers
- Ensure that all healthcare providers are aware of any allergies or medication sensitivities
- Read medication labels and follow dosage instructions carefully
- Ask questions about the medication, including its purpose, potential side effects, and interactions with other medications or medical conditions
- Use a pill organizer or other reminder system to ensure medication is taken on schedule
- Never share medication with others or take someone else's medication
- Report any adverse reactions or side effects to a healthcare provider immediately
- Avoid alcohol consumption when taking medication, as it can interfere with the medication's effectiveness or lead to negative side effects
- Store medication in a cool, dry place and dispose of any expired or unused medication properly
- Use a reputable pharmacy and verify that the medication received matches the prescribed medication.
Patients should inform their physicians and pharmacists of all over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements they are taking. These can negatively interact with prescription medications.
It’s advisable for patients to utilize the same pharmacy for all their prescriptions, which can be invaluable for the pharmacy in keeping tabs on potential drug interactions. Roughly one-third of U.S. adults take five or more prescription medications each day.
Ask questions of your physician and/or pharmacist; obtain clarification. Check the medicine container to verify the prescription and that your name is on it.