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.
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:
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.
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:
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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