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Understanding Medication Errors and Medical Malpractice

man taking medicine from a pill bottle

Medical malpractice — or medical negligence — in the realm of law occurs when a doctor or other healthcare professional deviates from acceptable patterns of practice. One of the many types of medical negligence is medication errors. Other forms include delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, birth injuries, and surgical errors.

Medications are crucial for many people who need them to treat, manage, or cure illnesses or symptoms. However, it can also be harmful when not administered or prescribed properly. When errors occur, it can have devastating consequences for patients — side effects, worsening health conditions, permanent injuries, or even wrongful death.

Healthcare professionals can take some precautions to have errors avoided or reduced. But if it occurs, it’s critical for you to seek the guidance of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. 

Medication errors and medical malpractice cases tend to be extremely sensitive. For this reason, we’ve curated a guide below for you to fully understand this type of medical negligence — and learn why seeking a New York medical malpractice lawyer is essential. 

Medication Errors — Explained

Also called medication malpractice, a medication error is any mistake that occurs during the process of prescribing, dispensing, or administering a medication. Physicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers have a duty of care to their patients, and if they breach this duty, they can potentially make errors that lead to severe health consequences or even death. This can include errors in the calculation of the correct dose, incorrect administration of the medication, or even giving the wrong medication altogether.

A medication error that caused harm is called a preventable adverse drug event. If a medication error occurred, but no one was harmed, it’s called a potential adverse drug event.

A common example of an error would be accidentally switching patients’ dosages and medications. Another potentially damaging error would be mislabeling or coding a dose, which is one of the most common mistakes in hospitals and clinics. 

Another perfect example of this type of medical malpractice is taking a supplement or over-the-counter medications that contain the same ingredient (the drug) as another drug you take. This mistake (known as polypharmacy) could cause an overdose — leading to serious, even life-threatening consequences.

Although medication errors are considered medical mistakes, they’re not always considered negligent or malpractice. There are always several factors that must be examined to come to a conclusive outcome, so an investigation is a critical part of a malpractice case.

Types of Medication Errors

Medication errors occur on every level of the healthcare chain — from the prescriber to hospital administration, nursing, and pharmacy. These may involve the following scenarios:

  • Prescribing the wrong medication for a particular type of treatment
  • Prescribing the wrong dosage of a drug (too much or too little)
  • Administering the wrong medication to a patient
  • Not knowing the patient’s medical history before prescribing a drug
  • Administering an incorrect medication dosage in a hospital
  • Advising a medication with strong or dangerous adverse effects
  • Prescribing medicines that can cause allergic reactions in the individual
  • Not educating the client about the risks of a particular medication
  • Prescribing a drug for off-label treatment

Top Causes of a Medical Error

Medications are a critical facet of the medical industry. They help to treat some of the most crippling diseases and illnesses in the world. As a result, it brings many people back from a bad situation and enables them to live their typical lives again.

When used correctly, medications are generally very beneficial to human health. On the other hand, improper usage can cause various problems — including:

  • Organ damage (which may require further unnecessary surgery)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unconsciousness
  • Heart problems
  • Permanent injury
  • At worse — death

There are several causes of medication errors and medical malpractice, in general. These can include the following factors.

Poor Communication

Serious problems can occur when physicians and other healthcare professionals don’t carefully communicate with one another about medications, such as those taken by the patient and the patient’s medical history. This can lead to inaccurate documentation of the medications a patient is taking and their details (dosage, frequency, route). It may also cause them to miss any preexisting conditions and allergies that should be considered when a doctor or other medical professional is making a prescription. Consequently, it puts a patient’s health and wellness in jeopardy.

Insufficient Flow of Information

Patient information must be relayed adequately and quickly between departments in a medical facility. Having access to all of their medical records will help doctors and nurses provide superior care. An inconsistent flow of patient data leads to medical slips, especially when a patient is transferred to a new care unit or discharged without proper coordination.

Excellent work doesn’t happen unless everyone involved is communicating clearly and effectively. Medication reconciliation upon transfer — from one healthcare provider to another — ensures that all vital information stays current and isn’t missed by the next provider. This process helps minimize the risk of wrong treatment and should be standard across the industry. 

Confusing Abbreviations & Symbols

Sometimes healthcare professionals will use a medication that is very similar to another medication. This is called LASA, which stands for a look-alike, sound-alike, or like appearance. These drugs look similar, sound similar, or have the same function but are different in their side effects and incompatibilities.

To help counter this problem, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) keeps a list of error-prone abbreviations, symbols, and dose designations. The agency recommends that such drugs on the list should never be used when communicating medical information.

Inadequate Medication Reconciliation Post-discharge (MRP)

Medication reconciliation post-discharge (MRP) is a process of ensuring that patients are prescribed the correct medications after they are discharged. This process is crucial to help avoid faulty medication administration at home. In addition, it’s vital because the discharge from the hospital to the home is one of the most dangerous care transitions for all patients.

A competent doctor or medical practitioner must include MRP in their workflow. However, this doesn’t always happen. In some instances, MRP is often overlooked, and patients don’t go through this vital process. MRP is a proven process that ensures discharge medications won’t negatively interact after the patient leaves the hospital.

Issues Related to Patients

Medication errors can be caused by a variety of factors. However, the other conventional reasons are wrong patient identification, inadequate patient assessment, failure to obtain consent, and insufficient patient education. This can happen in the following ways. 

  • When a nurse doesn’t properly identify the patient, they may administer inappropriate medication or incorrect dosage. This can lead to severe complications that could have been avoided.
  • If a healthcare professional fails to review all of the necessary information about a patient’s condition before administering medication, it could result in an error in the treatment plan or dosage amount.
  • If a nurse is administering medications without proper consent from the patient’s doctor or family members/guardians, an issue can occur.
  • Insufficient patient education can result in patients not understanding how to take their medications properly or what side effects may occur if they don’t follow their doctor’s instructions. This can lead to improper dosing and an increased risk of adverse reactions from the medications being taken.

The Emergency Room

It may be surprising, but the emergency room (ER) is a big contributor to medical malpractice. The reason for this is that the ER is a high-stress environment where significant decision-making takes place in a very short amount of time. Also, many patients come into the ER with a multitude of health problems, which can make it difficult for doctors to keep track of what’s going on and what medications are being prescribed. Issues may be also due to staffing shortages or exhausted staff.

Technical Failure

Like any other type of medical malpractice, technical failures are among the top causes of medical mistakes. This can involve equipment and software failure, or even human error. A recurring example is when a doctor presses “send” on an incorrect prescription form when sending it to the pharmacy for disposal to the patient.

Inadequate Pharmacological Knowledge Among Medical Professionals

Lack of pharmacological knowledge among medical professionals also leads to inevitable medical mistakes — particularly in the case of new medications. They’re usually done when prescribing medications and dispensing them to patients. For example, if a doctor advises an incorrect drug dose for a patient or prescribes it inappropriately, this could result in severe side effects.

Common Types of Medical Malpractice Causing Medication Errors

Medical errors are prevalent in the medical field. These errors can be as minor as prescribing faulty medication to something as serious as causing permanent injury or damage to a person’s body. If you suspect that a medical error has occurred, take steps to address the problem and prevent future mistakes. 

There are several types of medical malpractice causing medication errors. To help you be aware of this situation, we provided some of the most common types of medical negligence leading to medication errors.

Delayed Diagnosis

A delayed diagnosis can be the difference between life and death. A sign of a delayed diagnosis is continuing symptoms of a serious disease without a doctor making an accurate diagnosis. With this, you may not get the proper medication or treatment in time to help. If a doctor fails to diagnose you or your loved one with cancer or a life-threatening condition, and you continue to suffer, you may file for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Incorrect Diagnosis

Misdiagnosis refers to the wrongful act or process of identifying or diagnosing a disease, ailment, or other medical condition. In most cases, an incorrect diagnosis of a serious or even fatal condition can be grounds for a medical malpractice claim. Your doctor may have then provided you with the wrong medication that could lead to serious consequences or has failed to provide the proper medication to help cure the disease or illness you are suffering from. It’s therefore advised that patients get a second opinion from a doctor if they feel that the diagnosis given by the first doctor doesn’t match their symptoms.

Wrong Treatment for Your Condition

Another sign of medical malpractice is if your doctor does not follow established protocols for treating your condition. For example, if they prescribed an incorrect medication due to exhaustion or swapping a patient’s file, they may be negligent.

Failing to Review the Patient’s Condition and Medical History

If your doctor did not thoroughly research your medical history, an unexplained illness related to the treatment can be a sign of a medical error. For instance, if you were given a medication that you were allergic to and then began having reactions such as rashes, hives, breathing problems, or headaches, this could be an indication that the doctor acted negligently and failed to do the proper research.

As stated above, the adverse consequences of medical treatment aren’t always the result of medical negligence. In medical malpractice cases, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff (the victim) to show that the defendant (the healthcare provider) was negligent. To make this case, you must prove that the doctor did something wrong or failed to do something they should have done. 

If you believe you’ve had a medical error, contact your doctor immediately to attend to your condition. However, consider writing down all of the details surrounding your situation and keeping copies of any documentation related to it, such as prescriptions. This will help you track: 

  • What happened
  • How long it took for care to be provided
  • What treatments were administered
  • Who was involved in each step along the way

How Doctors Can Prevent Medical Errors

Medical mistakes are a serious problem in the world of healthcare. Doctors and other medical professionals are expected to be knowledgeable, experienced, and capable of providing the best care possible for their patients. However, despite their best intentions and efforts, they’re still susceptible to mistakes that can have catastrophic consequences on their patients’ lives.

While there aren’t any guarantees when it comes to medicine, there are some steps doctors can take to reduce their chances of making errors. These are:

  • Patient Education: As part of error prevention strategies, appropriate patient education must be provided to empower patients to participate in their own healthcare. Through education, doctors can ensure that patients understand their diagnosis, side effects, or medication instructions correctly. 
  • Double Checking Patient’s Medical Records: To prevent unnecessary adverse drug reactions, a doctor must thoroughly check a patient’s record before prescribing or administering drugs. If you don’t find any allergy history, a physician can always ask the client about any known potential allergies to drugs before prescribing new medications.
  • Keep Clear Communication: Another pivotal step in preventing medication mistakes is to create a culture of communication with both patients and fellow professionals. When giving orders verbally or through phone calls, speak clearly and accurately. In writing, avoid improper abbreviations and write legibly.
  • Continuing Education: Doctors need to keep up to date on the latest advances in medicine and treatments. This can be done through training, education, and reading medical books. This can help them understand new medications to avoid errors. 
  • Strictly Observe Protocols: Protocols are procedures that have been developed over years of research and testing. These procedures are designed to help providers perform their job efficiently while ensuring that patients receive the best care possible. Providers must understand them completely and follow them without fail.

Why an Attorney Can Help in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

A prescription error can be minor for some patients and tragic for others. While most medication errors aren’t life-threatening, the side effects can cause severe complications. They can cause a patient to suffer from physical trauma, psychological trauma, severe pain and suffering, disability, loss of ability to function in their daily life, and even death.

As such, if you think you’re suffering due to medical negligence, we advise you to seek help from a trusted medical malpractice law firm like The Pagan Law Firm. With us, you can rest assured that your case will be handled with the utmost care. Let’s take a look at how an attorney can help you in a medical malpractice suit:

  • File a claim: Medical malpractice claims are a challenging and time-consuming undertaking. Your attorney can help build your case while you focus on getting better.
  • Build strong evidence: Proving a physician breached the reasonable standard of care depends on your ability to describe how the medical mistake happened and how it caused your injury through evidence and medical records. Experienced attorneys can help you collect the necessary evidence and coordinate all facets of proving your medical malpractice case.
  • Expert representation: Dedicated medical malpractice lawyers will use their extensive legal experience and resources to take your case to court and fight on your behalf. This means that you stand a better chance of winning your case. You can rest assured that your case will be handled carefully.
  • Determine liability: To recover damages for medical negligence, you need to identify everyone who contributed to your injury or illness. A lawyer can identify all liable parties and hold them accountable for your suffering.
  • Fight for your compensation: When you’re concerned that you may have been injured due to negligence, the best thing you can do is seek experienced legal counsel. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer knows what evidence to gather, how to present it, and how to negotiate on your behalf. They’ll stand by your side, so you can get the compensation you deserve for future medical expenses.

Take Advantage of Pagan Law’s FREE Consultation

When you or your loved one is injured by a mistake made during the course of prescribing, filling, or administering a prescription, you may have a malpractice claim. At The Pagan Law Firm, we offer a free consultation to discuss the merits and potential challenges of your case. We can help you prove in court that the mistake was the cause of your suffering — which will lead to fair compensation.

If you’re looking to find medical malpractice lawyers to represent you in all aspects of your medical malpractice claims, don’t hesitate to contact us. We go above and beyond to seek justice for your injury or pain. Plus, we build a remarkable attorney-client relationship, so you can be comfortable and at ease working with us.