When you visit a healthcare provider, you may be prescribed medications based on your diagnosis. The goal is for the medications to help treat your symptoms, your condition, or both. However, sometimes medication errors occur, and when they do, they can put you at risk of becoming sicker. Nearly 9,000 Americans die annually due to medication errors.
Medication errors can happen for a wide variety of reasons. In some circumstances, medication errors may be deemed malpractice can become the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Medication Error Cause #1: Misdiagnosis of a Condition
Medical professionals are human, which means that they can make mistakes. Though this is understandable, you hope that your healthcare providers give you the right diagnosis when you come to them. When this does not happen, you could end up being misdiagnosed.
Depending upon your condition, a misdiagnosis could put you in harm’s way. For example, if you have Condition A but are diagnosed with Condition B, you may be prescribed medications meant for Condition B. Since you actually have Condition A, the medications may do nothing for you or may end up making you feel worse. The medications may also allow your condition to potentially get worse.
Medication Error Cause #2: Inadequate Communication Between Stakeholders
There are many stakeholders involved in your healthcare. The stakeholders range from you as a patient, to your authorized at-home caregiver, to your providers, and your pharmacists. Even though technology has made it easier for all the stakeholders to communicate with one another, effective communication does not always occur. It is not uncommon for hospitals and providers to have very little dialogue with one another, especially in situations where a patient is transferred rapidly from one facility or provider to the next.
Inadequate communication can lead to a gap in everyone knowing which medications you should be taking or are already taking. For example, your primary care provider may know that you are taking herbal supplements in addition to prescribed medications. Over-the-counter medications and supplements can interact in unwelcome ways with many types of prescriptions. It is vital that all stakeholders communicate about everything you are taking.
Medication Error Cause #3: Medical Supply and Product Malfunctions
Many patients rely on medical supplies and related products, like pumps and syringes, to help them administer the medications they have been prescribed. When those products malfunction, they can deliver too little or too much medicine to the patient. This error can cause major issues.
It is not always easy to see that a piece of medical equipment is malfunctioning. As a result, the malfunctioning equipment can do quite a bit of damage before anyone realizes what is happening.
Medication Error Cause #4: Incorrect Dosages
Think back to the last time you or a loved one picked up a prescription. The label likely included exactly how much of the medication to give, as well as when the doses were to be given. This is standard procedure and is designed to help you stay on top of your medication regimen, but it is not a failproof system and can break down from time to time, leading to medication errors.
If the dosage was transcribed or interpreted incorrectly, the dosage amount could be harmful. A too-high or too-low dosage could also interact with other medications or lead to unintended side effects. Again, dosage errors can present problems immediately or may take days to reveal themselves. In the meantime, your health could suffer.
Medication Error Cause #5: Incorrect Medications
Plenty of medications have long names that are hard to pronounce. Some of those names look very similar to one another, too. This can lead medical professionals like doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, and pharmacists to misinterpret the names of medications and substitute the wrong medication for the right one.
The results of this type of medical mix-up can be devastating. Countless medical malpractice lawsuits are filed each year due to these kinds of errors.
Can Patients Do Anything to Reduce Their Risk of Medication Errors?
When you put yourself in the hands of medical providers, you trust them to make proper diagnoses and give adequate advice based on their years of training. However, you can always take charge of your health decisions. Being proactive in all your interactions with your providers can help lower your risk of medication errors.
Some of the most reliable tips to mitigate your chances of a medication mishap include:
- Ask questions. During your medical appointments, make sure you ask questions. Keeping the lines of communication open with your providers helps you understand your condition and why they are recommending specific medications.
- Write things down. At your provider visits, bring a notepad or use the notes app on your smartphone. Jot down all pertinent information, including the medications that your provider suggests that you take. Be descriptive. Later, you can make sure that the prescriptions and dosages you are taking match what you were told during your examination.
- Know the medications you take. This can be a challenge, particularly if you take a lot of prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplements, and vitamins. You may want to compile a list of all the medications you take daily and weekly. Retain a copy of that list and bring it to all your appointments. Keep it in a place where you can always retrieve it, such as in a cloud-based document folder. That way, you can ask about potential interactions with your current medications when you are prescribed something new or different.
- Stay on top of side effects. If you start to experience intense side effects that seem unusual or outside the norm after being prescribed medications, talk to a provider immediately. If you are a caregiver for someone else and notice a sudden, unexpected change in the patient, get assistance and advice as soon as you can. Keep a running list of when side effects appeared, what they were, how long they lasted, and how intense they were.
- Search for medical supply equipment recalls. You may have been fitted with a piece of equipment, such as a port or pacemaker, as part of your diagnosis. You have the right to know what type of equipment was used. There is nothing wrong with looking up the equipment to see if any recalls or known defects have been recorded. If they have, contact your provider immediately to get the situation corrected.
What Should You Do If You Have Experienced a Medication Error?
Realizing that you have or may have experienced a medication error can be overwhelming and scary. Even if the error did not lead to catastrophic effects, you should take several key steps.
Seek treatment if you have a severe reaction. Call 911 or go to the emergency room. Time matters. Next, contact your provider to discuss your situation. Explain what you believe may have happened. There is no reason to avoid expressing your concern. Your provider is obligated to listen to you and most providers want to be helpful. Switching medications or correcting other errors may resolve the problem.
What if you or a family member or loved one had a serious outcome due to a potential medication error? Reach out to a malpractice lawyer to discuss the situation. Medical malpractice is a serious issue, and is also a complicated area of law that has many governing rules, regulations, and requirements. Seeking advice from a malpractice lawyer can help you decide whether or not to move forward with a malpractice lawsuit.
The burden of proof will be on you as the one initiating your malpractice lawsuit. With that in mind, be sure to keep records and evidence to support your assertion of malpractice related to medication errors. Evidence can include anything from medical bills and hospital reports to prescription labels and your handwritten appointment notes. The more accurate and authentic documentation you can provide to your malpractice lawyer, the more compelling your argument will be.
You can never be too cautious when adding a new medication to your routine. Remain vigilant about asking questions so you can be an active participant in your healthcare.
Dayton Malpractice Lawyers at Wright & Schulte, LLC Offer Consultations for People Injured by Medication Errors
The Dayton malpractice lawyers at Wright & Schulte, LLC are always ready to speak with you if you believe you have been injured by a medication error. Call our Dayton, Ohio offices at 937-222-7477 or fill out our request form online to set up a consultation. Our firm handles medical malpractice cases in Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Centerville, Toledo, Youngstown, and Miamisburg.