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Patients pay the price for medication errors

There seems to be a medication on the market for just about every condition we can think of, from nausea and high cholesterol to infertility and anemia. The demand for medication is as high as it's ever been, thanks in part to fast-paced drug development and baby boomers who are increasingly seeking drug treatments for medical conditions.

Unfortunately, this environment has created prime situation for medication errors to happen. Patients are at a very real risk of getting dangerous, defective or ineffective medications due to overworked doctors, careless pharmacists, inaccurate recordkeeping systems, and confusion stemming from the extraordinarily high number of medications available. Understanding how devastating a medication error can be could be crucial for patients who may have gotten injured or sick as a result of this type of mistake.

Medication errors are defined by the Division of Medication Error Prevention and Analysis as "any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer."

When a patient is given, prescribed or treated with the wrong medication, there is a very real risk that the error will negatively impact his or her health. There are some common ways that medication errors can harm a patient, including:

  • Dosing errors: Incorrect dosing information could result in complications related to overdose or inefficacy.
  • Defective drug: If a drug is defective or faulty, it could cause unexpected and serious side effects.
  • Wrong drug: Taking the wrong drug could exacerbate a condition or cause new problems for patients.
  • Inaccurate instructions: In order for a medication to work properly, it must be taken properly. If instructions to patients are wrong, the drug's effectiveness could be jeopardized.
  • Drug interactions: Drugs don't always interact well with each other; doctors, nurses and pharmacists are expected to know these risks and avoid giving drugs to patients that could negatively interact with other drugs.

Medication errors can be very serious and can result in devastating conditions or even fatality. Victims of this type of mistake and their families have the right to take legal action against the party or parties responsible for the error if damages have been suffered. 

Source: FDA.gov, "Medication errors," accessed on Sept. 18, 2014

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