Representing Clients Injured by Prescription Drug Mistakes
When you are sick or suffer from an injury, you go to a hospital and see a doctor in hopes they’ll prescribe you medication to help you get better. Your main concern is your health, but people should also be cautious of medication errors as a result of medical malpractice or medical negligence that could cause devastating side effects. Our Cleveland medical malpractice lawyers have experience in handling these claims.
Take a second to imagine that you’ve broken your collarbone. You see a medical professional who prescribes you 20mg of morphine for your pain. Your next stop is the pharmacy where they accidentally dispense 200mg of morphine for you because they couldn’t read the illegible prescription writing. That night you take one pill, but the wrong dosage causes you to stop breathing. The lack of oxygen to your brain causes brain damage. It’s not the first or last medication error that will catastrophically change someone’s life.
Unfortunately, medication and prescription drug mistakes are a major public safety problem in the United States. According to data provided by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), more than 1.5 million patients are harmed by preventable drug errors every year. While some medication errors are thankfully minor, many others have devastating, and even deadly, consequences. A medication error is defined 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.”
At Tittle & Perlmuter, our Cleveland medical malpractice attorneys have the skills and legal knowledge needed to handle complex medication and prescription drug error claims. If you or a family member was injured by a medication-related mistake, please contact our law firm for immediate legal assistance.
Common Drugs Involved in Medication or Pharmaceutical Mistakes
Medication and prescription drug errors happen for many different reasons. In some cases, doctors write prescriptions for the wrong medicine, a medication that is contraindicated, or just prescribe the incorrect dosage. In other cases, pharmacists fail to fill the prescription carefully. To protect the health and safety of patients, both doctors and pharmacists must take care to avoid serious errors.
Yet, in far too many cases, the established systems that ensure that powerful medication is properly prescribed and ordered are not used. Physicians and pharmacists get sloppy; they fail to double check to ensure that patients are actually getting the right medication for their current condition because he or she is too busy. An FDA study found, “the most common error involving medications was related to administration of an improper dose of medicine, accounting for 41% of fatal medication errors.”
Types of Medications
There are certain drugs commonly involved in medication errors. These medications include:
- Insulin: used to treat Type I and Type II diabetes. This drug is easily mixed up due to similar packaging or naming and confusing generic listings.
- Morphine: used to treat severe or chronic pain. Types of morphine are mixed up due to similar names, different concentrations placed close together, as well as wrong dosages.
- Potassium Chloride: used to treat low amounts of potassium in the blood.
- Albuterol: treats side effects of lung disease (such as asthma).
- Heparin: this drug is a blood thinner used for treating and preventing blood clots.
- Vancomycin: used to treat staph infections and inflammation of the colon or small intestines.
- Cefazolin: treats bacterial infections and is also used before and after surgery to prevent infections.
- Acetaminophen: this drug is a pain reliever (for arthritis, toothaches, etc.) and reduces fevers. Acetaminophen is available in different strengths, and too much is toxic.
- Warfarin or Coumadin: this is another blood thinner, which reduces the formation of blood clots.
- Furosemide: used to treat fluid retention for those suffering from congestive heart failure, liver disease or a kidney disorder.
Common Medication and Pharmaceutical Errors
Unfortunately, a majority of medication errors are caused by human mistakes, which can come from fatigue, choosing the wrong drug option, or entering incorrect patient information. The most common errors are:
- Wrong drug quantity (40%)
- Inaccurate duration of the medication (21%)
- Incorrect dosing directions (19%)
- Wrong dosage formulation (11%)
There are five aspects that a doctor needs to make sure are correct when giving out a prescription. The five rights of safe medication use are:
- Give the medication to the right patient
- Order the right drug
- Prescribe the right frequency for taking the medication
- Dictate the right dosage
- Provide the right route of administration to take the drug
Medical professionals don’t always give the correct prescriptions to patients, despite their best intentions. System errors can affect a prescription via inadequate staffing, illegible handwritten orders, doses that seem to have trailing zeroes, or similar drug errors. Additionally, communication barriers are another aspect contributing to medication and pharmaceutical mistakes. Doctors can make one of the following mistakes, making it harder for a pharmacist to dispense the correct prescription: having illegible handwriting, including confusing abbreviations, giving a verbal order only, ordering a drug with an ambiguous name, or providing the wrong information in a fax or electronic prescription.
There are multiple times when a prescription can get mixed up. This is why it is critical that patients ask questions about the medication they’re being prescribed.
When a Physician is at Fault
A young woman is on her way to work, driving on the highway, when out of nowhere a car merges into her lane and causes an accident. She is rushed to the hospital because she is bleeding, and in order for her to become stable, the bleeding needs to stop. Once at the hospital, a doctor orders her to receive the drug “Hespan” because it will help stop the active bleeding. Another medical professional accidentally grabs the drug “Heparin” instead, which is a blood thinner. The young woman hemorrhages due to a great loss of blood and unfortunately dies. Catastrophic and even fatal injuries occur when mistaking a drug because of a similar name.
Our Ohio medical malpractice attorneys have handled many cases where a physician was at fault for a medication error that was avoidable. Common medication mistakes made by medical professionals include:
- Prescribing the wrong medication;
- Writing a prescription for the incorrect dosage;
- Failing to take adequate history of current medications;
- Not taking into account a patient’s allergies;
- Neglecting to monitor for adverse reactions to the medication;
- Ignoring risk factors;
Physicians should complete a medication reconciliation each time there is a change in a patient’s treatment. A medication reconciliation is when a health care provider compares all of the medication orders to all of the medications that the patient currently takes. This will help prevent incorrect medications or dosages from being prescribed, or prevent harmful drug interactions. A medication reconciliation should be completed anytime a patient experiences a change in hospital setting, change in the medical professional they’re seeing, or change in the level of care they are receiving.
When a Pharmacist is at Fault
A middle-aged man receives a prescription from his doctor for Coumadin, also called Warfarin, due to his chronic atrial fibrillation (a-fib). His doctor had recently doubled his dose, meaning the man should take two pills, instead of one. The pharmacist then misread the instructions and dispensed the pills with double strength, along with writing on the bottle that the man should take two pills instead of one. In other words, the man’ Coumadin dosing was quadrupled. Then, the prescribing doctor did not properly monitor the man’s blood level of anticoagulation (how thin the blood is). As a result, the man died from a brain hemorrhage as a direct result of a Coumadin overdose.
Pharmacists are required to ensure people get the right medication and dosage, as well as check that a new medication will not react badly with another drug the person is already taking. Common pharmaceutical errors made at a pharmacy include:
- A pharmacist incorrectly filling a prescription order;
- A pharmacy incorrectly labeling a prescription; and
- A pharmacist failing to advise or warn of potentially dangerous drug side-effects or drug interactions.
Medication errors are preventable at different levels, yet mistakes still happen. Both physicians and pharmacists mess up medication orders for patients due to lack of knowledge, a lapse in memory, or just being overworked, among many other reasons. Many things can influence a medication error, including: lack of training, lack of drug or patient knowledge, being overworked, fatigue, dealing with a physical or emotional health issue or having poor communication. Despite these outside factors, physicians and pharmacists should do everything they can to ensure their patients are safe with the medications they prescribe and dispense.
Four Tips to Protect Yourself From Medication and Pharmaceutical Mistakes
While physicians and pharmacists have a legal duty to avoid making any dangerous errors, patients should also take proactive measures to protect their own well-being. To help ensure that medication and pharmaceutical mistakes are prevented, you should consider doing the following four things:
- Write down the name and dosage of any drug prescribed by your physician.
- Double check the label and dosage when you pick up prescriptions at any pharmacy.
- When refilling a prescription, look at the drug prior to consumption to ensure that it matches your previous prescription.
- Never hesitate to ask the pharmacist any questions you may have about prescription drug side-effects or drug interactions.
What Questions Should I Ask to Prevent Medication Errors?
There is no such thing as a stupid question, especially when it comes to the medication you are taking. It is important to know what you are putting in your body and how it will affect you. The questions you should ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist are:
- What is the brand name or generic name of the medication you prescribed?
- What does this medication do/how will it help me?
- How long until I will see the results from this medication?
- What is the dose you’re prescribing?
- How long should I take this medicine for?
- What happens if I miss a dose? What if I take more than the recommended dose?
- Are there any foods, beverages, other medications or activities I should avoid while I take this medication?
- Are there any side effects that come with taking this medication? What do I do if these side effects present themselves?
- Will this medication interfere or react negatively with any other medications I’m taking?
Medication and Prescription Drug Error Victims Deserve Compensation
Medication and prescription drug errors are a form of medical malpractice. As with other types of medical malpractice, these errors can cause serious damage to the victims. A patient who has been a victim of medical malpractice is entitled to compensation for the full extent of their damages. Unfortunately, in practice, recovering fair compensation can be challenging. Large insurance companies typically defend both physicians and pharmacists. These insurers work aggressively to try to limit the value of settlement offers. Our Cleveland medication and prescription error lawyers help patients fight back. We can help you seek financial recovery for:
- Your medical bills;
- Long-term disability;
- Permanent physical damage;
- Pain and suffering;
- Emotional distress; and
- The wrongful death of a family member.
Contact Our Cleveland Medical Malpractice Attorneys Today
At Tittle & Perlmuter, our Ohio medical malpractice lawyers have extensive experience handling claims involving medication and prescription errors. If a doctor prescribed you the wrong medication or a pharmacist dispensed the wrong medication, that is medical negligence. If you have any questions about what medical malpractice is and if you’ve experienced it, download our Medical Malpractice Guide. This guide will help you understand what steps you should take next. Tittle & Perlmuter is here to help you when you are ready.
To schedule your free case evaluation, please call our Cleveland office today at (216) 308-1522 or fill out our online contact form. Our client-focused firm offers evening and weekend appointments to fit your busy schedule and attorneys can also come to you.