Medication Errors: What They Are, How They Happen

Updated on April 13, 2021

Medication errors can be frustrating at best and deadly at their worst. Society trusts medical professionals with their health and, ultimately, their lives. Medication errors can be prescription errors, problems with preparation, or even mistakes made on the administration level. 

The idea that medication errors can exist within the structure of the medical industry is unnerving, but understanding how medication mistakes are made can help prevent them. Also, gaining insight into why medication errors happen can also help humanize medical professionals and distance them from the unhealthy amount of pressure society places on them. 

Prescription Errors

The most common reason for a medical malpractice suit in the United States is misdiagnosis. Misdiagnosis is closely tied to the category of medication errors that happen at the prescription stage. Prescribing the wrong medication is much more likely when there has been a misdiagnosis. Complex medical histories and rare and hard-to-detect conditions and diseases both make a correct diagnosis difficult to obtain. 

Prescription errors also involve mistakes made with the medication type, the dosage, or the patient’s history. Avoiding drug interactions is an important part of prescribing medications, and if the prescribing doctor misses an interaction, it can quickly ruin any remaining vitality the patient was holding onto. 

The rapid release of new drugs can also contribute to difficulty prescribing the best medication for each patient. It is difficult knowing when to stick to an old remedy that might not be as effective and when to try something new. 

Preparation Errors

After a medication is prescribed, the chain of command switched to a pharmacist or technician who prepares and packages the drugs for the patient. The preparation of medicine is a complex and nuanced process and at this stage is where preparation errors happen. 

The most frequently reported error during preparation is a lack of proper hand hygiene before and during preparation. The rules governing sanitation in the medical industry are strict and unforgiving, and this error is reported across all levels of the process. 

It is possible that handwashing is just the easiest infraction to spot. However, contamination s a real risk, especially in a workplace that holds countless chemical compounds every day. 

Other preparation errors stem from the complex names that medications have. Most medications have at least three different names. This is because they often go by their chemical compound name, the main brand name, and at least one name for generic versions. Pharmaceutical companies are also infamous for preferring Greek and Latin root words, which means many medications end up sounding similar. 

Administration and Staff Errors

Now more than ever, healthcare professionals are working hard and burning the candle at both ends. Employee burnout and workplace stress are at least as common in healthcare as in other fields. These can lead to negligence, carelessness, and forgetfulness as staff members are simply overwhelmed by pressure and the amount of work they have. 

Communication is extremely important when dealing with sensitive materials and people’s lives. Sloppy handwriting and typos are responsible for plenty of medication errors each year. 

Inadequate chart review is another administration error that can cause serious complications. Administrative oversight is supposed to be an extra layer of protection for both patients and busy doctors. Medications may interact with preexisting conditions or past illnesses and can devastate a compromised immune system. 

When is it Malpractice? 

Most medication errors such as dosage size simply prolong the healing process or preventing proper treatment until it is corrected. For a medication error to qualify as malpractice, there needs to be harm or injury in a way that you can demonstrate it to a court. 

A negative reaction to a medication that was improperly prescribed can be the start of a severe malpractice suit. If a medical condition worsens and causes further pain, injury, or even death, it could very well be malpractice. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you discover if you have grounds for a lawsuit. 

About the Author

Cheryl Roy has built a successful legal career over the years. However, she wanted to reach out to people beyond her practice and decided to do so by writing. Cheryl took it as a personal mission to make legal information more accessible to the public. Therefore, she started sharing her expertise with individuals and businesses facing a legal dilemma. Now she has branched out to many online and offline platforms and works as a collaborative editor for Bader Scott Law Firm.

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