The Most Common – and Deadly – Medical Mistake
December 29, 2020
According to a review of more than 335,000 medical cases, the most commonly observed medical mistake that causes severe or deadly complications in patients involves prescribing, dispensing, and giving medications and other treatments. Medical errors result in more than 250,000 deaths in the United States every year, so uncovering the common culprits behind these mistakes is critical in launching effective and widespread efforts to reduce patient harm that leads to preventable illnesses, injuries, and deaths.
What are Medication Errors?
Medication errors are preventable events that involve the inappropriate use of a medication or medications. We often call a medication error that causes harm to a patient an adverse drug event. Here are just a few examples of different types of medication errors that are sadly far too commonplace in the United States:
- Choosing the incorrect medication or dosage (i.e. under or overprescribing) to treat the patient’s complaint or condition. These errors also involve picking the wrong medication based on a patient’s stated allergies or other relevant medical background indicators
- Prescription errors, such as writing the wrong order for the pharmacy
- Omission errors, like failing to give the medication dose as well as wrong or improper dosing mistakes, which involve the improper administration of the medication(s)
- Miscommunication or a lack of communication between treating (and prescribing) care providers
The Mayo Clinic reports that some of the most common causes behind medication errors are poor communication between doctors, poor communication between patients and their providers, drug names that sound and/or look alike, and confusing medical abbreviations. Other factors that frequently result in serious or deadly medication errors are when a provider is distracted, fatigued, has a lack of knowledge about the medication, its uses, or its names (e.g. generic vs. brand name), or when the provider has incomplete information on a patient.
Medication errors frequently lead to debilitating and deadly adverse health events. For example, a doctor might advise a patient to take over-the-counter (OTC) acetaminophen, forgetting that he or she is already taking a prescription strength pain management medication. That patient then faces risks for experiencing liver damage, which can cause long-term consequences and can also be fatal, from taking too much acetaminophen. In another instance, a provider may forget to refer to his or her patient’s allergy list and prescribes a medication to which they are allergic. Allergic reactions can cause a variety of complications including sinusitis, lung infections, and even anaphylaxis, which is a potentially deadly allergy-induced reaction. Even if a patient is not allergic to a medication, prescribing the wrong one or too little or too much of one can still result in great bodily harm.
Recommendations for Patients
The burden of responsibility for reducing the rate of preventable medical errors lies on providers and the medical system at-large, but that does not mean that there is nothing patients can do to improve their chances for receiving safe medical care. Patient safety experts recommend that patients be actively involved in their care and that they stay as informed as possible. Here are a few other helpful steps patients can take to have clear and open communication with their care providers:
- Make sure you understand what – and why – medication(s) or procedure(s) your doctor is recommending or prescribing. If you do not understand, do not be afraid to ask questions. If comprehension or language is an issue, bring a trusted friend or family member who can offer support and advocate for your best interests
- Give your doctor a complete list of any medications you take, and do not forget to make note of over-the-counter drugs and supplements. Also be sure to provide a complete list of allergies, health conditions and your medical history. If you realize that you forgot to tell your doctor information, do not worry! Simply call or email them to update it
- Most people assume that providers are communicating with one another, but that is not always the case. As frustrating as it can be, be prepared to communicate your medical information to each individual provider or specialist you see
- Maintain lists of your medications and test results. Patient health advocates also recommend that patients double check that the medication they are receiving is the correct type or dose, especially if it is their first time taking it
- Speak up and ask your doctor what they are doing to prevent medical errors. Be wary of providers who are dismissive of your question or who refuse to give you examples of technologies or protocols that are in place to prevent mistakes from happening
Were You a Victim of a Medication Error or Other Medical Mistake?
Even if a patient dots all their i’s and crosses their t’s, devastating mistakes will continue to happen. That is because patients are not responsible for ensuring that they receive safe and effective care, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers are. Providers are legally obligated to maintain and provide a certain standard of care. Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider is negligent – either by performing or omitting something that is considered standard medical practice – and that negligence causes harm to the patient. If a provider’s negligence resulted in harm to you or a loved one, someone at our firm can help. To speak with someone, contact a representative online now.
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