Medication Errors

Here are some common examples of medication errors by Virginia hospitals and nursing homes:

Example A – Your physician is aware that you are allergic to a medication but prescribes it anyway.

Example B – Other medications you are currently taking are contra-indications to a new medication your physician just prescribed, but she doesn’t read the medication package insert and now you are taking medications which may prevent the others from being effective, or worse, their combination may cause injury.

Example C – Medicine A can only be taken by people who can walk or are otherwise mobile, and physician prescribes it for his double amputee patient who cannot get out of bed.

Example D – Your pharmacy receives a prescription for Medication A, but it fills your bottle with Medication B.

Example E – Your pharmacy fills correct prescription but prints wrong dosing directions – so you are now taking the medication 12 times a day, rather than three times per day as ordered by your doctor. The overdose occurs and causes a serious physical injury.

There are almost too many examples of medication errors to list. Even worse, many Virginia health care providers – physicans, nurses, and pharmacists – have committed medication errors.

Medication errors are such a big deal in health care today that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has been researching these errors while attempting to create and implement programs and rules which would prevent such errors.

How is the FDA doing at minimizing these errors and the resulting needless injuries and deaths?

The FDA admits that in its efforts to prevent drug errors, “[I]mproving patient safety continues to be a challenge.” Final Summary of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Action Items – Doing What Counts for Patient Safety: Federal Actions to Reduce Medical Errors and Their Impact, February 2001.

So what can be done to prevent medication errors?

  • Keep an active record of all medications you are taking. Write it down and provide copies to all physicians.
  • Research any medication allergies. How do you know you are allergic? What is the generic name of the drug to which your are allergic – know it all.
  • Tell your pharmacist about all medications you are taking. He may only have records of medications dispensed at his pharmacy – so give them notice of all medications.
  • Tell your family and provide them with a list of your medications. It is likely that in an emergency you will not be able to speak for yourself.
  • Speak to your physician – ask why she is prescribing each medication? What are the side effects? Have you been on this medication before? Keep a record.
  • Unsure about dosage? Unsure about combination with other medications? Call your doctors. Write down the name of the person you spoke with and what they said. Keep notes.
  • You may want to review the federal guidelines on preventing drug mistakes.

It is important to note that it is not your duty to prevent all medication errors. It is the duty of your health care provider to do so, and if they fail, your diligence may be the difference between another preventable injury or death from a medication error and a close call.