Have You Been Harmed by a Medication Error?
October 16, 2021
More than 7,000 people die annually in the U.S. because of medication errors, according to research published in Medication Dispensing Errors and Prevention. Medication errors are entirely preventable. If you have been harmed by a medication error, you may have a valid medical malpractice claim. Enlisting the help of an experienced law firm is the best way to find out if you may be able to recover damages for your injury.
According to the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention, the following factors define a medication error:
- It is a preventable event.
- The event causes inappropriate use of medication and/or patient harm.
- The event happens while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer.
There are more than 6,800 prescription medicines available in the U.S. today. Drug manufacturers are legally responsible for providing adequate warnings regarding the proper dosage and side effects of the products they produce, as well as potential interactions with other medicines and herbal supplements.
Doctors who prescribe these medicines are also responsible for understanding potential complications as well as administering the proper dosage, monitoring patient outcomes, and communicating with their patients. Doctors who neglect this duty of care and commit a medication error that harms a patient may be liable for medical malpractice.
When are Medication Errors Most Likely to Occur?
Medication errors can occur any time a person is in the hospital or under a doctor’s care. However, medication errors are most likely to occur when a physician is ordering or prescribing drugs. A doctor may order the wrong medication, the wrong dosage, or prescribe the wrong frequency of use. In some cases, doctor’s handwriting may be illegible. Studies indicate that nearly half of all medication errors happen at the prescribing or ordering stage. Nurses and pharmacists catch some of these errors, but not all of them.
Other times when medication errors occur include:
- Dispensing medication.
- Administering medication.
- Documenting the use of the medication.
- Monitoring the patient for adverse outcomes.
Medications errors are more likely to happen in intensive care units (ICUs) than other settings, where patients may be given 25 medications or more per day.
Why Do Medication Errors Happen?
There are many reasons why medication errors happen, including choosing the wrong drug from a drop-down menu, a doctor’s failure to communicate drug orders clearly, and confusion between drugs with similar names or packaging. Distraction is widely considered a major cause of medication errors. Physicians and other health care providers are often under stress to perform many duties in a short amount of time, speaking with patients, family members, ordering tests, and performing examinations or surgeries. Medication errors can happen when doctors are trying to do two things at once to serve their patients.
One study concluded that medication errors might occur in up to half of all surgical operations. Surgeons may seek to bypass standard hospital safety protocols in the operating room. This can lead to prescribing an incorrect dosage or failing properly to treat changes in a patient’s vital signs during surgery.
While humans under pressure may make mistakes from time to time, hospitals and health care settings are still responsible for implementing systems and procedures to detect mistakes. Many studies indicate that by implementing checks and balances, most medication errors could have been prevented.
What Types of Medications are Considered at Higher Risk for Error?
The wrong dosage of any medication can cause a patient harm. For example, high doses of Tylenol can cause liver damage in patients who regularly consume alcohol. However, some medications are considered at higher risk for error, including but not limited to the following:
- Any medication administered by anesthesioslogy
- Magnesium sulfate
- Potassium phosphates
Proper procedures can reduce the incidents of medication errors involving these drugs. Procedures for doing this include requiring both physicians and nurses to double-sign high alert medications and requiring pharmacists to stock look-alike medications in separate locations. Some hospitals also store oral liquid mediations in unit-dose packages only.
What are the Symptoms of a Medication Error?
Medication errors that cause harm to a patient are known as adverse drug reactions or adverse drug events. Symptoms of medication errors include but are not limited to the following:
- Swelling of the lips or neck
- Difficulty breathing
- Profuse bleeding or internal bleeding
- Increased heart rate
- Increases or decreases in blood pressure
- Unusual drowsiness or confusion
- Nausea or vomiting
Medication errors in hospital settings may also result in paralysis or death. Patients may also experience psychological problems because of medication errors.
What Should Patients Do if They Have Been Harmed by a Medication Error?
Patients who believe they have been harmed by a medication error should immediately inform their health care providers about their concern. Family members should take on this responsibility if the patient is unable to do this on their own. The next step is to document the patient’s symptoms and the medicines taken, including the dosages and frequency, and the response of the health care providers when the symptoms appeared. If the doctors dismiss these concerns, the patient should seek a second opinion.
If the patient has suffered serious or permanent harm, the next step is to contact a medical malpractice lawyer. An experienced lawyer can evaluate the details of the adverse drug reaction and determine whether the hospital or physician can be sued for medical malpractice.
How can a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Help?
A medical malpractice lawyer can help patients harmed by medication errors by evaluating whether they have a valid medical malpractice claim. Doctors and hospitals cannot guarantee a positive outcome for their patients. Sometimes, patients suffer due to circumstances beyond the control of health care providers.
An experienced lawyer can help injured patients determine whether their injury was caused by a doctor’s negligence. Negligence happens when the care a person receives is below agreed-upon professional standards. It takes legal skill and experience to determine whether an individual received proper care.
Individuals who have suffered injury to do a violation of the standard of care may be able to file a medical malpractice claim. A medical malpractice claim can allow injured patients to recover financial damages for their injuries. It is also how injured individuals can hold negligent parties accountable for their actions. This may act as a deterrent, making it less likely that the hospital or doctor makes a harmful medication error in the future.
How Has Galfand Berger LLP Helped Clients with Medical Malpractice Claims?
Galfand Berger LLP has obtained a number of multi-million dollar settlements on behalf of patients harmed by negligent health care providers. Our cases include advocating for parents of an infant who died because of a medical error and for family members who lost a loved one due to a misdiagnosis.
Since there are time limitations for filing medical malpractice actions, it is important to consult with a lawyer as soon as you become aware of an injury that may have resulted from a medical error.
Watching a family member suffer severe pain and discomfort due to a medical error can be devastating. Finding out that this suffering could have been prevented makes it even harder. We are here to help.
Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Bring Years of Experience to Representing Individuals Harmed by Medical Errors
Many medication errors that result in severe patient injury or death are preventable. If you have suffered unnecessarily due to a medication error, contact our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP today. You can arrange for a free consultation by filling out our online form or by calling 800-222-USWA (8792). We serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg, from our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania.