Most patients, particularly those in vulnerable populations (the elderly, children and people with special medical, mental or physical needs), do not question a doctor's judgment in ordering treatment or a nurse's administration of it. Unfortunately, that trust can be misplaced.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that nearly ten percent of annual medical error reports arise from the improper dosage, ordering or administration of a prescription drug. A statistic from the Institute of Medicine puts this into perspective – approximately 1.5 million preventable prescription medication errors occur each year.
Though there are many ways in which a medication error could occur, three situations are most often encountered:
- Administering the wrong dosage of a drug
- Administering the wrong drug altogether
- Improperly administering the drug (i.e., in any manner that could cause unintended harmful effects through interactions with other medications, giving the drug orally when it should have been given intravenously, etc.)
Professionals in the legal and medical fields advise people (or their loved ones if they are unable to properly advocate for themselves) to take a few steps to reduce their risk of becoming a victim of a medication-related error. These include:
- Ask the name of medications you are receiving
- Ask why the treatment has been ordered
- Follow all the directions properly, making sure to distinguish which medications need to be taken with food versus those that must be taken on an empty stomach, etc.
- Be on the lookout for side effects or adverse reactions – even if an error does occur, if medical professionals intervene, it may be possible to reverse the harmful effects if treatment is given in time
- Keep a current list of all medications you are taking (prescription, over-the-counter, supplements, vitamins, contraceptives, diuretics, herbals and sleeping aids should all be disclosed, as they could possibly interact with a new medication) and a list of all doctors currently treating you
When it comes to your health care, you are your own best advocate. Being proactive and self-aware can greatly decrease your risk of being a victim of prescription-related mistakes, but some errors will still happen. If you or a loved one, in spite of your best efforts, has been the victim of a medication mix-up, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.