There are nearly 7,000 prescription medications and endless over-the-counter drugs available in the United States. There are thousands of health supplements, herbs, potions, and lotions used by the public regularly to treat health problems. With the sheer number of substances on the market, mistakes can be made when doctors prescribe or dispense drugs.
Hundreds of thousands of patients experience adverse reactions to medications or other complications but do not often report them. The total cost of treating patients with medication-associated errors exceeds $40 billion each year. In addition to the monetary cost, patients experience psychological and physical pain and suffering due to prescription errors.
A prescription error is a form of medical malpractice where a doctor makes a mistake prescribing a drug to a patient. Whether it’s a vaccine, like Zostavax, or a medication to treat nausea, like Zofran, a prescription error can be committed for any type of medication. Major consequences of prescription errors are that they contribute to a growing lack of trust in the healthcare system.
What Are Some Common Types of Prescription Errors?
Some of the most common types of prescription errors committed by doctors may include:
- Prescribing the wrong drug
- Prescribing the wrong dosage
- Prescribing a medication that a patient is allergic to
- Prescribing medications that are incompatible with each other
What are Some of the Difficulties in Bringing a Lawsuit for a Prescription Error?
One of the most serious difficulties in bringing a lawsuit for a prescription error is proving that the harm suffered was the consequence of the prescription error. Simply proving that you have suffered some harm and that the doctor has committed a mistake is not enough to win a lawsuit.
To win a lawsuit for a prescription error, you must show that you would not have suffered from your current harm if the doctor had not made the prescription error.
How Prevalent Are Prescription Errors?
The prevalence of prescription errors has been extensively studied. Reviews of prescriptions, mostly performed by pharmacists or interviews from prescribers, have been used as sources of information. Prescription errors account for 70% of medication errors, resulting in adverse effects. Prescription errors are more prevalent in ambulances. A high percentage of prescription errors are attributable to new doctors.
What Are the Sources of Prescription Errors?
Prescription errors can arise from choosing the wrong drug, the wrong dosage, the wrong method of administration, and the wrong frequency or duration of treatment. Inappropriate prescriptions to individuals with dangerous pre-existing conditions are also erroneous. Errors in dosages are the most common, representing more than half of all prescribing faults.
Additionally, inaccuracy in writing and poor legibility handwriting, the use of abbreviations, or incomplete writing of prescriptions can also lead to misinterpretation by healthcare personnel. For example, failing to include the total volume of the drug and its duration can lead to confusion. These errors can result in drug dispensing and administration mistakes.
Failure to withdraw a patient from a drug is also frequent. When patients are admitted to a hospital, medical personnel must clearly understand what drugs a patient has previously taken. Unintended changes in medication dosing are frequent and may account for up to nearly 60% of medication errors. Inaccurate medication history results in potential harm in more than one-third of all patients taking more than four drugs. Transferring a patient’s care within the same hospital or between general practitioners also causes prescription faults.
Errors in prescribing depend on the failures of individuals. The larger the number of prescriptions a patient has, the more steps in the prescribing procedure, and therefore, the higher the risk of error.
Due to calculation errors, prescriptions that are higher or lower than the correct amount may happen. Some prescriptions have similar brand names and pharmaceutical names.
Lack of cooperation between doctors and nurses also causes prescription errors. Sometimes, doctors and nurses are unsure who is responsible for prescribing medication to a patient. These errors can lead to adverse effects. Doctors often face stressful conditions, heavy workloads, and difficult work environments. Insufficient communication with their team and not being well-rested are among the primary causes of prescribing faults and prescription errors.
Lack of knowledge and inadequate training also leads to inappropriate prescriptions. New doctors often work in stressful circumstances that experienced doctors perceive as routine. New doctors more frequently make errors. Insufficient knowledge or training often underlie prescription errors and other mistakes. Inadequate staffing and lack of skills and knowledge of rules also contribute to errors. Sometimes, doctors have to take on tasks outside of their routine, such as taking care of another doctor’s patient. These conditions have been associated with prescription errors.
Even the simple act of writing down previous medications and collecting information as part of the medical history requires a base knowledge of pharmacy and adequate information about the patient’s condition. The choice of dosage requires information about a patient’s clinical status and the appropriateness of treatment.
Patients themselves may also contribute to errors. Elderly patients or children may not adequately monitor their medications.
How Can Prescription Errors be Prevented?
Error-reporting systems are crucial to preventing prescribing faults and prescription errors. Healthcare institutions have widely-used error-reporting systems. Reporting prescription errors is usually voluntary and confidential but must be timely and evaluated by experts to identify any dangerous conditions that may arise. Pharmacies should be informed and aware of errors previously made in their environment.
Automated prescription systems are effective tools for reducing medication errors. They reduce the risk of harm from prescription errors and improve the quality of medical care that a patient receives by reducing errors in drug dispensing and administration. Computerized advice can also significantly benefit doctors by giving guidance on prescription dosages. This translates into reduced risks of adverse side effects and reduced lengths of hospital stays.
However, electronic systems are expensive, require training, and may not be available for all hospitals. Almost all institutions use medication charts. They include all relevant clinical information, along with prescriptions. Medication charts are a relatively simple alternative to electronic drug prescribing and dispensing systems. The use of both electronic systems and medications charts is ideal. Interdisciplinary collaboration by hospital staff allows prescribers and other staff to have similar procedures and feedback control.
Hospital pharmacists are major contributors to the identification and reduction of prescription errors. Most hospitals that can afford a pharmacy have one. Pharmacists frequently review prescriptions with help from pharmacy aids. Hospitals with pharmacies have fewer prescription errors.
Training and feedback for medical students and doctors are also important. Online references help doctors to practice identifying and verifying potential prescribing errors. Doctors should follow checklists and have strict rules for writing prescriptions. The use of well-structured medication charts is important. Handwritten prescriptions should not contain ambiguous abbreviations, symbols, or in
Should I Hire a Lawyer?
Carefully evaluate all of the drug interactions you’ve had and all types of adverse reactions you may have experienced. Errors and faults in prescriptions are preventable in most cases. If you believe a doctor’s prescription error has injured you, you may consider hiring a personal injury lawyer. A personal injury lawyer can help you determine the value of your case and represent you in a lawsuit.