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Types and Causes of Prescription Medication Errors

There are thousands of prescription medications available on the market today along with countless health supplements sold over the counter. The sheer amount of options consumers have in 2020 when it comes to treating their medical conditions means that unfortunately, mistakes are sometimes made in the prescribing and managing of these medications.

Prescription drug errors vary in type and severity, but many times they are the result of negligence on the part of a medical practitioner. Such negligence, whether through ill intent or, more commonly, a common slip-up, can cause great risk to patients. In some cases that may be only mild discomfort, but in others the consequences of error are far more severe. It is estimated that 7,000 to 9,000 Americans die each year as a result of medication errors.

Patients certainly cannot single-handedly prevent these medication errors. That said, equipping yourself with some basic knowledge on why these errors happen can help conduct a more open dialogue with your provider and take more control of your own health and medical well being.

What Is a Prescription Drug Error?

Prescription medication errors can happen at multiple points between a doctor prescribing one and the patient taking it. The most common include:

  • Giving a patient the wrong medication

  • Giving a patient the wrong dosage of a medication

  • Prescribing one medication that reacts negatively with another the patient is taking

  • Mislabeling medication

  • Not warning the patient of a medication’s side effects

Why Do Medication Errors Happen?

The Mayo Clinic notes that “Medication errors can happen to anyone in any place, including your own home and at the doctor’s office, hospital, pharmacy and senior living facility.” Reasons for them include:

  • Distractions: Physicians have many duties and calls to their attention. Unfortunately, that means that sometimes they will incorrectly write a medication type or dosage. It’s thought that 75 percent of all medication errors happen because of such distractions.

  • Illegible Writing: Physicians are practically infamous for their indecipherable script on prescriptions. If a pharmacist then tries to guess at the dosage or medication type, it could have serious consequences for the patient. Of course, nowadays, many prescriptions are done electronically, which helps to lessen the risk.

  • Poor Communication: This can happen between the doctor and the patient, between two different physicians, and between the physician and the pharmacy. Drug names often sound alike, and drug abbreviations can create even more confusion that leads to error and injury for the patient.

What to Do If You Suspect a Medication Error

If you know or have reasonable cause to believe you are the victim of a medication error, first talk to your doctor or pharmacist to try and get to the root of the cause.

It is important to note that, though most medication errors are not because of ill intent, many of them still count as negligence on the part of the physician, pharmacist, nurse practitioner, or another individual you may have interacted with. For example, a doctor assigning the wrong prescription dosage because they were distracted is inexcusable when it comes to patient care, and that person could be held liable in a medical malpractice case.

Remember that in order to establish a medication error case as malpractice, you must be able to prove your professional relationship with the other party and that there was a breach of duty or care. Evidence is extremely important here, which means you should keep any medical bills, prescriptions, instructions, and other records related to the medication in question.

© 2022 by Clifford Law Offices PC. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 261

About this Author

Clifford Law Offices prides itself on tackling complex cases and seeing them through to the end. Our commitment to these difficult cases has led to many notable verdicts and settlements — many of them record-setting — in a variety of practice areas.

We have been named in the National Law Journal's Top 50 "America's Elite Trial Lawyers," the only Chicago law firm to be awarded this honor. We have also received first-tier rankings in such practice areas as medical malpractice, product liability and class action work in U.S. News & World Report...