The Causes and Consequences of Medication Errors April 12, 2024.

The Causes and Consequences of Medication Errors

When patients seek medical care, they trust that their doctor will give them the correct medication. However, in some instances, patients wind up receiving the wrong drug or dosage. This is known as medication errors, and they can lead to very serious consequences for the patient.

Medication errors occur when medical professionals incorrectly prescribe, dispense, or give medications. Annually, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), receives over 100,000 reports of these errors, and 7,000-9,000 of them result in deaths. Sadly, medication errors are highly preventable, which makes these deaths and injuries even more heartbreaking.

Continue reading to learn about the causes and types of medication errors, as well as the serious consequences that can arise.

Types of Medication Errors

The four most common types of medication errors include:

  1. Incorrect Medication. This happens when a medical professional pulls the wrong medication and gives it to the patient. These errors can stem from similar-looking bottles, similar drug names, or not checking the medication’s strength.
  2. Incorrect Dosage. Medication dosages are carefully calculated based on age, weight, and gender. For instance, a medication dosage calculated for a grown adult would be extremely harmful, or even fatal, to a child. This can lead to an overdose, which can cause vital organs to shut down or even death.
  3. Incorrect Administration Rate. This error occurs when a patient is receiving medication through an IV at the incorrect speed or frequency. Administering medication too quickly or too often can cause an overdose.
  4. Incorrect Patient. Administering medication to the wrong patient is another serious error. This can cause issues if the patient is given medication they are allergic to or that reacts with the conditions that they have. These errors show extreme negligence and a disregard for patient safety.

Most Common Causes of Medication Errors

Medication errors typically stem from human mistakes. Errors often occur in hospitals, but they can also occur in pharmacies or outpatient settings.
The five most common causes of medication errors include:

  1. Lack of Training. Inexperienced medical professionals are more likely to prescribe the incorrect medication or calculate the wrong drug dosage. But, even experienced medical professionals could make a mistake, if they are distracted or overworked.
  2. Medications with Similar Names. The vast number of prescription drugs in the U.S. contributes to the likelihood of medications having similar names. For example, the drugs Amaryl and Reminyl have similar names, but they have different uses. Amaryl is used to treat Type 2 Diabetes, while Reminyl treats dementia.
  3. Overworked Medical Professionals. Fatigued medical professionals are prone to making mistakes. For instance, they could grab the wrong medication or accidentally give the patient the incorrect dosage. These negligent mistakes can leave the patient severely injured.
  4. Failure to Check Patients' Medical History. Patient’s medical history shows the medications they take, prior diagnosis, allergies, and more. If the medical history is not taken into consideration, then it could result in the patient being prescribed the wrong medication or given drugs they are allergic to.
  5. Failure to Check for Possible Drug Interactions. Neglecting potential drug interactions can lead to serious side effects. For example, combining Bactrim, an antibiotic, and Warfarin, a blood thinner, increases the risk of significant bleeding. Many other medications have potential interactions that could cause serious harm to the patient if they are used together.

The Severe Consequences of Medication Errors

Patients who experience medication errors have to deal with the repercussions of the mistakes made by their doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. For some, their lives may never be the same after medication errors. Taking the wrong medication or dosage could cause new complications like rashes, skin disfigurement, or organ damage. In severe cases, patients may suffer from debilitating injuries or even pass away due to medication errors.

While for others, any unwanted side effects may clear up once the error is resolved. There is no way to know how big or little the impact will be on the patient after medication errors.

Recent Medication Error Case

In recent years, a tragic accident brought nationwide attention to this issue, when a nurse gave their patient the wrong medication. A 75-year-old woman was admitted to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center after she experienced symptoms of a brain bleed. The doctor prescribed Versed, an anti-anxiety medication, to calm the patient before her PET scan.

At this time, Radonda Vaught was the registered nurse who was tending to the patient. Vaught was supposed to retrieve and inject the patient with Versed, but when she could not find it she overrode the automated dispensing cabinet.

Instead of pulling a different anti-anxiety medicine, Vaught accidentally pulled the wrong medication. She didn't realize that she pulled Vecuronium, which is a paralyzer. Vaught injected the patient with Vecuronium, which caused the patient to go into cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, this error resulted in the death of the patient.

Vaught was ultimately criminally charged with Impaired Patient Abuse and Reckless Homicide for this medication error. This case is one of many examples that shows the importance of medical professionals taking steps to prevent medication errors.

Contact Our Cleveland Medical Malpractice Attorneys

Victims who were harmed by medication errors have the right to bring a lawsuit against their healthcare provider. If you or a loved one experienced serious harm or death due to a medication error, you may be able to receive compensation.

We understand that it is scary to file a lawsuit against large healthcare facilities that seem like they have unlimited resources. That’s why we encourage you to hire a seasoned medical malpractice attorney who has experience litigating against these hospitals.

At The Mellino Law Firm, attorney Chris Mellino has dedicated the past four decades to securing justice for the victims of medical malpractice. Chris has successfully obtained settlements and verdicts against all hospitals in the Cleveland area. His commitment to our clients is shown in our countless reviews and case results.

If you have a potential medication error case, we encourage you to call our office at (440) 333-3800 or fill out our contact form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.