There is no question that medicines are extremely beneficial in today’s society, curing diseases, preventing problems from chronic illnesses and easing pain. However, if not used correctly, medications can be dangerous and even deadly. Unfortunately, medical errors occur with surprising frequency, leading to unnecessary illness and death throughout the United States.
Medication Error Statistics
According to a 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine, almost two million people are injured due to medical errors each year, costing $3.5 billion in lost wages, productivity and additional medical costs. Administration errors account for 26 to 32 percent of medication errors throughout the country and many of these are not intercepted before they affect a patient.
Types of Medication Errors
The National Institute of Health describes a medication error as a “failure in the treatment process that leads to, or has the potential to lead to, harm to the patient.” In addition, there are different types of medication errors, including:
- Prescribing faults – a failure in the prescription process that could lead to or cause harm to the patient, including irrational, inappropriate or ineffective prescribing, as well as under or over prescribing.
- Prescription errors – a failure in the prescription writing process that results in incorrect information being given, such as the identity of the recipient, the identity of the drug, the formulation, dose, timing, frequency and duration of the medication.
Prescription Error Lawsuits
There have been several lawsuits filed in Maryland based on medication errors. In 1992, a woman filed suit against Giant Foods, claiming that instead of the Corgard she was prescribed to control her blood pressure and pulse rate, the pharmacist gave her Chlorpropamide, used to treat diabetes. After taking the drug, the woman lapsed into a diabetic coma and suffered a serious injury. More recently, a Maryland court approved a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who died after he was given medication prescribed to a different patient at a Wal-Mart pharmacy.
Since 1992, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received nearly 30,000 reports of medication errors, but because reporting errors is voluntary, the number of mistakes that actually occur could be much higher. The FDA reports that errors are made by doctors, nurses, pharmacists and even patient families. The reports of injury and death from medication errors do not point to any “typical” mistake, the FDA says. Some reports they have received include:
- The death of an arthritis patient after receiving a 10-milligram daily dose of methotrexate rather than the 10-milligram weekly dose they should have received.
- A young patient who lapsed into a coma when a morphine pump used after she underwent surgery was turned to high rather than off.
- The death of a patient after receiving 200 units of insulin rather than 20. The prescription read “20U,” but the “U” was mistaken for a zero.
- A patient who hemorrhaged after being given the blood thinner Warfarin which was meant for a different patient.
In addition to the potential for injury or death, medication errors can lead to hospital readmissions, which is something the Affordable Care Act is hoping to reduce. New federal policies will begin increasing payments to healthcare providers who show a reduction in hospital readmissions over the next few years. Poor discharge planning and patient education regarding medications are being addressed by Medicaid and Medicare in order to help healthcare providers reduce readmissions due to medication errors.
With almost two million patients suffering serious injury and some of those patients dying from injuries sustained after a medication error, the healthcare industry has begun taking a closer look at the method used for prescribing medications, implementing additional checks and balances in the system in order to help protect patients. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to a medication error, or if a loved one has died as a result of a medication error, contact our office online or by telephone today to see if you qualify for a product liability or wrongful death lawsuit.