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How to Spot a Pharmacy Medication Error

On Behalf of | Apr 28, 2022 | Medical Malpractice

The advancement of the pharmaceutical industry and the increase in available medications have helped countless people heal their ailments and mitigate their pain, and the right medications have the power to change lives. However, when an individual is prescribed or consumes the wrong medication, the effects can be detrimental. According to a report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, at least 1.5 million people are harmed every year as a result of these errors, making it one of the most common types of medical errors and malpractice, and an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 Americans die each year as a result of medication errors.

Medication errors can have serious impacts and victims should seek justice through a medical malpractice claim. Whether you or a loved one was prescribed or dispensed the wrong medication, it is important that you understand all legal avenues available to you. Below, the Baltimore medical malpractice attorneys at Peter Angelos Law provide insight into medication errors and how to navigate a medical malpractice claim.

What Are Pharmacy Medication Errors?

According to the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error and Prevention (NCCMERP), a 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.” These errors can often take the form of:

  • Giving a patient the wrong medication
  • Giving a patient the wrong dosage of a medication
  • Mislabeling medication
  • Prescribing a medication that reacts negatively with another medication the patient is taking
  • Not warning the patient of a medication’s side effects

These errors can be related to professional practice, health care products and procedures, or mistakes in the medication distribution systems including prescribing, order communication, product labeling, packaging, nomenclature, distribution, dispensing, administration, education, monitoring, and use.

How Do Medication Errors Happen?

Medication errors can occur in a variety of settings, including in patients’ homes, at the doctor’s office, senior living facilities, hospitals, or pharmacies. The most common causes of errors are:

  • Failure by a medical professional to properly diagnose symptoms
  • Poor communications between medical professionals
  • Medication names that sound alike
  • Medications that look alike
  • Physicians being distracted when prescribing or entering medication into system
  • Medical abbreviations
  • Illegible handwriting

While health care professionals must provide sufficient patient education about the use of their medications, the patient must also participate in their health care to prevent errors. It is important that patients actively participate in their care by asking their doctor questions and staying informed about any changes to their prognosis. If you as the patient have fulfilled your responsibility and your health care provider has not, you should speak with an attorney to review your case and find out more information.

What Are the Consequences of Medication Errors?

Unfortunately, medication errors are somewhat prevalent. The effects of these medication errors vary greatly in severity, ranging from minimal to fatal, depending on the nature of the error. Victims of medication errors will often face not only physical consequences, but financial ramifications as well. In most cases, treatment and recovery time of the initial condition is extended, which can also delay returning to work and prolong the patient’s worsened quality of life. Others may find that their original condition and symptoms have worsened. In some situations, the error may result in a new condition that will need to be treated. These errors can lead to a variety of negative effects, and it’s important that these victims seek out additional medical support as well as legal counsel.

How Can Medical Errors Be Prevented?

While medical professionals are responsible for avoiding medication errors, patients also have a duty to prevent such situations. The most powerful methods for patients to avoid errors are knowledge and education about the medicine they’ll be taking. Patients should know the answers to the following questions:

  • What is the name and intention of this medication?
  • Why am I taking this medication? What is it supposed to do? How long will it be until I see results?
  • What are the possible side effects? What should I do if they occur?
  • What is the dosage for this medication? How long should I take it? What time(s) each day should I take it?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose? What should I do if I accidentally take more than the recommended dose?
  • Are there any foods, drinks, activities, or medications to avoid while taking this?
  • Will my other medication(s) be affected by this new medication? If so, how?

If you as the patient don’t know the answer to one or more of these questions, or you don’t understand any aspect of the answer, it is important that you speak with your doctor. In addition to connecting with your healthcare team, taking the following steps can further protect you from a medication error:

  • Carry an updated list of medications you’re taking
  • Read the medication information sheet provided by pharmacists
  • Do not share your medications or take medications that are not prescribed to you
  • Check the expiration date of your medications
  • Properly dispose of drugs that have expired
  • Research and practice proper medicine storage
  • Keep medication out of children’s reach
  • Learn about potential drug interactions and warnings

When patients are informed about their medication, they can act as the final check in the system to prevent medical errors. By taking an active, knowledgeable role in your health care, you can aid in preventing medication errors and save yourself from potentially harmful situations.

What Has to Be Proven in a Medication Error Lawsuit?

Despite a patient’s diligence in learning about and properly taking their medications, medication errors do still happen. When a patient suffers an injury because of a medication error, they may have the right to file a lawsuit. Under medical malpractice law, the patient’s attorney will need to prove negligence on behalf of the medical professionals or other offending parties to get their client the compensation they deserve. To demonstrate negligence, an attorney will need to show the following:

  • Duty of Care- An established relationship between the patient and healthcare professional must be shown. Further, the healthcare provider has to have been responsible for the care and treatment of the patient.
  • Breach of Duty- A healthcare professional has a duty to perform the required level of care. If they fail to provide that required level of care, they can be liable for breaching said duty.
  • Causation- The medical professional’s negligent behavior actually caused the patient’s injury.
  • Damages- The plaintiff was harmed or injured as a result of the healthcare provider’s actions.

In these cases where patients look to file a lawsuit, medication errors can be caused by the prescribing doctor, nurse, or pharmacy’s negligence. Negligence claims can stem from many situations, including:

  • Poor oral or written communications
  • Carelessness
  • Ineffective precautionary measures
  • Unintentionally providing a patient with the wrong dosage or medication
  • Failure to take a history of the patient’s prescription drug use
  • System errors or malfunctions
  • Understaffed medical facilities
  • Failure to warn of all risks associated with the medication
  • Dangerously mixing different prescription medications
  • Work overload

To the average patient, proving negligence and providing evidence can be a daunting task. However, for personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers, this is a standard part of the job. Contact an attorney to begin planning your case and discuss how you will establish and prove negligence in your situation.

What Damages or Compensation Am I Entitled To?

In cases where the patient has suffered ill health as a result of some type of medication error, a personal injury attorney can potentially win substantial damages. These damages will typically be compensation for:

  • Medical and hospitalization costs incurred
  • Costs for any future medical care or treatment that is required
  • Loss of wages and/or future income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Permanent disability
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Expenses related to the incident

The average case settlement value is difficult to determine since every case is different. The most effective method of determining the value of your case will be to consult with a legal professional. Once they assess the different factors in your case, they will be able to better advise on what types of damages you can recover.

How Can an Attorney Help in Medication Error Lawsuits?

Attorneys can be an invaluable resource in medication error lawsuits. With years of experience and familiarity with these types of cases, they will be able to guide you through the process, providing evidence and proving negligence in your case. Experienced medical malpractice attorneys also have access to a network of healthcare professionals who can help determine the cause of your medication error and testify on your behalf. Finally, if an attorney determines that your medical provider was negligent, we can help you recover damages to compensate for your losses.

If you or your loved one has been harmed as the result of a pharmacy medication error, a medical malpractice claim can help to provide an avenue for compensation. While financial compensation will not erase the physical pain that results from a medication error, it can provide support for additional medical bills and help reduce the strain of lost wages. At Peter Angelos Law, we are ready and waiting to assist you with your case and to fight to win the compensation you deserve. For more information about your case, contact a member of our team of Baltimore medical malpractice attorneys today.