Medication Errors

Today’s medications are better than they have ever been. Medicines are used to treat a variety of illnesses and chronic diseases and can be life-saving when administered properly. Yet, each year at least 1.5 million patients are harmed by pharmaceutical errors or medication errors that could have - should have - been prevented. Medication errors can occur at any stage in the treatment process. They can occur in the home, in an outpatient clinic setting, in a long-term nursing care facility, or in the hospital. These errors can be committed by anyone in the medical profession, from the doctor writing the prescription to the nurse administering the medication. 

In general, a medication error occurs any time a patient receives:

  • The wrong dose of a medication
  • The wrong medication
  • A medication that interacts dangerously with another medication

Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have a responsibility to ensure that patients receive the right drug for their illness, the right dose of that drug and that the drug does not interact with any allergies or other medications the patient is currently taking. When they fail to do this, serious medical complications can occur. 

Types of Medication Errors

A medication error can occur in numerous ways, but the most common include:

  • Doctor writing a prescription for the wrong medication
  • Doctor writing a prescription for too much medication (wrong dose)
  • Nurse administering a different patient’s medication by mistake
  • Nurse administering the wrong medication by mistake
  • Nurse administering the wrong dose of medication by mistake
  • Nurse injecting an oral medication into an IV port
  • Pharmacist filling the wrong medication
  • Pharmacist filling medication orders with sound-alike names
  • Pharmacist mislabeling medication
  • Pharmacist, nurse, or doctor not checking patient allergies prior to administering, filling, or prescribing medication
  • Insufficient information regarding co-prescribed medications that may interact inappropriately

Medication Errors Leading to Injury

There are times when a medication error does not result in injury. Yet more often than not, the patient experiences an adverse reaction and/or serious complications after medication errors occur. In 2008, 1.9 million people were injured from medication side effects after they were prescribed the wrong type or wrong dose of medication. It is estimated that 100,000 patients die each year from medication errors that should never occur in the first place. 

Medication Errors Can Lead To Injuries:

  • Rash
  • Change in mental state, respiratory state, or heart rate
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Serious infection
  • Heart attack
  • Respiratory depression
  • Hemorrhaging
  • Shock
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Wrongful Death

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