Mistakes in prescribing medications are more common than commonly supposed. Some estimates are that physicians will make one error for every 250 patients that she sees. That is really a LOT of medical mistakes! In fact, this means that YOUR number probably comes up sometime in your lifetime. In addition, we must consider the mistakes made by allied medical personnel, such as nurses and pharmacists. Certainly, you know all the jokes about the physician with the bad handwriting. Not funny, when it results in injury or death.
Often, the patient fails to notify the physician of known allergies to medications, but since there are over 8000 prescription drugs available, and climbing, it is no surprise that the system itself can cause many mistakes. Many drug names are very similar. There are known, major-company brands and generic look-a-likes. Drugs can only come in so many colors, shapes, and sizes. Some foreign drug manufacturers are rather fly-by-night and have limited or no quality control mechanisms, so the drugs might contain contaminants or be completely fraudulent. This is one of the unexpected consequences of the effort to reduce the cost of medications to the patients, by permitting drug substitutes by pharmacists, with the cost being the primary consideration. Pharmacists and nurses may misread the name of the drug, which can be catastrophic, or even the amount of the drug to be given, which can be equally devastating. Physicians, nurses, and pharmacists often work long hours, and fatigue may result in mistakes in prescribing or dispensing medications. Sometimes the patient’s condition improves, and the original dosage is no longer reasonable. An overdose occurs, even though, originally, the prescribed amount was correct!
Medicine is a regular minefield of potential problems, injury, and death. How many automobile accidents are caused by dizziness, passing out, or other adverse effects of medications? Some drugs interact badly when taken together. The patient may fail to notify the physician or pharmacist that he is taking medication from another physician, or even about one that he purchased off-the-shelf at the local food store. Now, of course, there are all sorts of “herbal” medications being ingested by millions of people.
Preventing Drug Interactions and Dosage Errors
One of the positive aspects of computers is that they are quick to detect potential drug interactions and obvious drug dosage errors. There is a steady movement afoot by hospitals and pharmacists to constantly input patient drug data into computers, which do not get fatigued. Bar-coding of medications or medicine containers is increasingly being used to avoid mistakes. At least they may cause the practitioner to look twice at what she is doing.
Too often, the patients are too-trusting in the system and fail to ask critical questions about drug interactions or side-effects. It is not uncommon for some elderly patients to stockpile medications from previous prescriptions, and not mention these to the most current physician they see. Some states now require that pharmacists give out an information sheet about each drug they deliver. It may well be that, in the future, medication errors will be uncommon, primarily due to the increasing computerization of medicine, but we still have a way to go before that day arrives. Until then, the patient should be on her toes to detect mistakes by all the people who are treating her. Remember, physicians and other medical professionals really do, on occasion, bury their mistakes, even with the best of intentions.
Contact a Lawyer About a Prescription Drug Error
If you have suffered a prescription drug overdose or a severe drug interaction due to the negligence of others, Parker Scheer recommends that you consult with a personal injury lawyer and evaluate your case. For your free confidential case review click here and receive a response from one of our attorneys within hours. If you prefer, you can also telephone our offices in Boston seven days a week at toll-free.
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