Heart disease and cancer are the most prolific killers of Americans. Third on the list? It could be medical errors, according to a 2016 study from patient safety experts at Johns Hopkins University. Those mistakes take many forms, but errors in prescribing and administering medication are prime among them.
A major study published by the Institute of Medicine in 2006 estimated there are 1.5 million preventable adverse drug events (ADEs) every year. These mistakes cause fatalities and illness and result in billions of dollars in costs for hospitals, nursing homes and other caregivers.
The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention defines a medication error, in part, 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 health care professional, patient, or consumer.” There are a number of possible causes for medication errors. They can belong not just to doctors but to nurses and pharmacists as well. Such errors may include:
- Overworked and fatigued nurses
- Miscommunication between a doctor and nurse
- Poor or illegible prescription handwriting
- Incorrect dosing (too much or too little)
- Failure to anticipate reactions with other prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and even foods
- Drug-addicted patients misrepresenting their condition
- Intentional error
Protections for patients
It is impossible to prevent all medication errors before they happen, but those under medical care can lean on Illinois’ Medical Patient Rights Act for some protection. In part, the act gives patients the right “to care consistent with sound nursing and medical practices” and “to receive information concerning his or her condition and proposed treatment.”
The penalties for violating this act are not especially stiff, but the act can embolden patients to advocate for themselves, ask pointed question and expect answers before any medication is administered.
After an error is made, a medical malpractice lawsuit could be the best recourse. The foundation for a lawsuit in these cases rests on two pegs:
- Was the “medical standard of care” substandard? That standard is often defined as “the type and level of care that a healthcare professional with the same training and experience would provide under similar circumstances in the same community.”
- Was the medication error the cause of harm?
Medical malpractice lawsuits are difficult to win, but awards can be significant if the case solidly demonstrates negligence. A personal injury lawsuit could also be an option against a nursing home if the medication error takes place there.