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How Often Do Medication Errors Happen in Hospitals?

Published on Sep 22, 2023 at 6:01 pm in Medication Error.

How Often Do Medication Errors Happen in Hospitals
Prescription drugs play a critical role in modern-day health care. We rely on medications to regulate blood pressure, treat cancer, lower blood sugar, minimize pain, and so much more. For some patients, the right prescription drug can be life-changing.

When an error causes an injury or the preventable worsening of a condition, patients are left to wonder what went wrong and to ask questions like, “How often do medication errors happen in hospitals?” and “Could I have done anything to prevent this?”

We know that this is a difficult period of your life, which is why McMath Woods P.A.’s team of Little Rock medical malpractice attorneys will seek to answer questions like these in this blog.

Read on To Learn More About…

  • What medication errors are and how they occur.
  • How common medication errors in U.S. hospitals are.
  • Steps you can take after being injured by a prescription drug error.

Defining and Understanding Medication Errors

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a medication error is “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.”

A medication error is more than just prescribing the wrong prescription drug. It can also be:

  • Prescribing the incorrect dosage
  • Failing to consider other medications a patient is already taking (that may be contraindicated for use with another medication)
  • Administering the incorrect medication
  • Administering multiple doses too close together
  • Missing a dosage
  • Dispensing the incorrect medication or dosage
  • Failing to monitor patients
  • Administering to the wrong patient

Other terms that are important to know include:

  • Adverse drug reaction – An unintended, undesired, or noxious response to a prescription drug that occurs at doses normally accepted for human use.
  • Adverse drug event – An injury or undesired outcome caused by a medication, missed dosage, or improper dose.
  • Medication misadventure – An iatrogenic incident (organ or tissue damage) inherent to certain drug or medication therapies (e.g., chemotherapy).
  • Sentinel event – The unexpected risk or occurrence of physical or psychological injury or death of a patient.

Any time that a medication error occurs, victims and their families should have the opportunity to recover compensation for everything that they’ve suffered.

Nationwide Medication Error Statistics

Hospitals are often the one place we expect to be treated with the greatest degree of safety and care. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Let’s consider the following nationwide statistics:

  • Medication errors kill 7,000 to 9,000 people
  • More than 100,000 reports of medication errors are made to the FDA annually.
  • Rates of medication errors in hospitals and long-term care facilities are estimated to be between 8% and 25%.
  • Errors associated with intravenous (IV) medications are estimated to occur at a rate of 48% to 53%.

Medical Errors—A Leading Cause of Death in the United States

According to researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine, medical errors (a category to which medication errors belong) are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Deaths attributable to healthcare errors are only surpassed by deaths from heart disease and cancer.

Each and every year, more than 250,000 people lose their lives to preventable medical errors. Many more survive but with irreversible and irreparable harm.

Thousands of deaths and many more life-long injuries could be wholly and completely prevented if doctors, pharmacists, nurses, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare professionals practiced more care and caution around prescription drugs.

If you or a loved one was hurt, harmed, injured, or killed by a medication error, know that you are not alone. At McMath Woods P.A., we are here to guide victims of medical malpractice through the civil claims process toward the most favorable outcome possible.

The Most Common Causes of Medication Errors in Hospitals

The first step to reducing the number of medication errors in hospitals is to identify the causes. Let’s review some of the most common contributing factors to hospital prescription drug errors:

  • Low staffing levels
  • Staff fatigue or high levels of stress
  • Inadequate written communication
  • Inaccurate transcription
  • Poor supply and storage practices
  • Pharmacy dispensing errors
  • Interruptions or distractions during administration

Protecting Yourself From Preventable Medication Errors

As a patient, you shouldn’t have to worry about what medication you’re being given. When a nurse hands you pills or injects something into your IV line, your first instinct shouldn’t be, “Is this the right medicine or dosage?”

Unfortunately, negligent hospitals and healthcare providers often put patients in this very position.

Whenever a medication is being prescribed, dispensed, or administered to you, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. You are your best advocate. If you’re not sure how to do this, we recommend asking some of the following questions:

  • What is the name of this medication?
  • What am I being prescribed this medication for?
  • Who prescribed this medication?
  • Should I expect to experience any side effects?
  • Is there a chance this medication could harm me?
  • When should I contact a doctor if I start feeling unwell?
  • Do I need to be monitored after my first dosage?
  • What are my alternatives?
  • How often will I have to take this medication?
  • What is the correct dosage?

Write down the answers to these questions so you don’t forget. This also creates a record of what you’ve been told, which you can then compare against your medical records and notes should something go wrong.

How Arkansas Hospitals Can Protect Patients From Medication Errors

Patient Safety Network (PSN) recommends a number of both high- and low-tech solutions to minimize the risk of medication errors in hospital settings. These include:

  • Standardizing communication between providers and across departments
  • Educating patients on risk mitigation upon discharge
  • Optimizing workflow by reducing distractions and interruptions
  • Implementing independent double-checks
  • Providing extra scrutiny when prescribing and administering high-risk medications
  • Standardizing labeling and storage requirements
  • Using barcode medication administration (BCMA) technology

It doesn’t matter if you’re at the emergency room at Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock or have been admitted as a patient at UAMS Medical Center—you deserve to seek medical care with the confidence and assurance that any medications you receive are correct, safe, and effective.

McMath Woods P.A.—Standing Up for Patients in Pulaski County

There is never a valid excuse for medication errors. So if you’ve been harmed by the incorrect prescribing, dispensing, or administering of a prescription drug, you may be owed compensation for all of your related damages and losses.

We’re standing by to help. Contact us today, and we’ll schedule you for a completely free case evaluation.

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