Who is Responsible for a Prescription Medication Error?

July 3, 2022
Who is Responsible for a Prescription Medication Error?

Medication errors can have a negative and lasting impact on a patient’s health and wellness. Typically referred to adverse drug events (ADE), an ADE occurs when a patient is exposed to a medication and is harmed from that exposure. Not all ADE’s occur because healthcare providers were negligent in their duties to prescribe or distribute medication. However, in many cases, a patient was harmed because a patient consumed the wrong type or incorrect dosage of a prescribed medication. 

Medication Errors by the Numbers

Even though millions of Americans take some form of prescribed medication annually, a medication error is alarming and can have dramatic consequences for patients. According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information:

  • Seven million Americans are adversely affected by medication errors.
  • Approximately 7,000 through 9,000 Americans die on average every year due to medication errors.
  • Medication error costs American patients over $40 billion in costs.

Types of Medication Error

A medication error can be much more complicated than providing a patient with the wrong prescription. Because medication development, manufacture, and distribution can be incredibly complex–issues may arise during every process step. A medication error can include the following situations.

Manufacturer’s Defect

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has crafted a gauntlet of federal regulations for developing and manufacturing modern medication, issues may arise with a particular medication that is out of a medical provider’s control. For example, medication errors can occur when a particular drug has not been appropriately manufactured or the packaging containing the drug has been contaminated. Further, some medications may be mislabeled and not indicate a valid expiration date.  

Medication Prescription

Physicians spend years acquiring the necessary medical training to identify illnesses and treat patients with proper medication. However, physicians may also make a mistake and prescribe incorrect medication. This can cause adverse side effects that hurt the patient’s health. Sometimes, prescribing the wrong medication can permanently damage the patient, causing additional medical treatment.

Patient Evaluation

Physicians may take a liberal attitude with prescribing certain medications without considering certain patient risk factors. Physicians should always account for their patients’ age, weight, and prior medical conditions, specific susceptibility to liver and kidney failure.

Medication Dosage

Not only are physicians required to prescribe the correct medication to treat a patient’s ailments or conditions, but they must also prescribe the proper dosage. By prescribing the wrong dosage, a physician risks providing their patient with an ineffective amount of medication—allowing an ailment to persist as under-treated or harming the patient by prescribing too much medication.

Handwritten Prescriptions

In some instances, physicians have made mistakes simply by writing out prescriptions with illegible handwriting or making a typo when writing out the prescription. This can cause a pharmacy to enter the prescription incorrectly and issue the wrong type or dose of medication. However, the increasing use of e-mail and online programs like My Chart occurs less frequently.

Filling the Prescription

Pharmacies are not perfect and sometimes enter prescriptions incorrectly. Simple human error can cause the wrong type of medication or incorrect dose of the proper medication to be issued to a patient. This has significant consequences and makes the pharmacy liable for the patient’s medical damages.

Medication Management

Treating physicians have an ethical duty to maintain a relationship with their patients after prescribing medication. Although a physician cannot force a patient to schedule periodic check-ups, it is their responsibility to provide clarification and an opportunity for appointments to track and monitor a patient’s medication use. In addition, medical conditions change over time, and some patients may need to switch medications to treat a medical condition or change the dosage.

Patient Error

Sometimes, a patient may consume an incorrect dose of medication or continue taking it after their doctor has advised them to stop. In these instances, doctors must effectively communicate with their patients and maintain open communication with the patient and their immediate family or caregivers to ensure proper medication management.

Who is Liable for Medication Errors?

Because medication management requires multiple parties, it may be challenging to identify the liable party. However, below is a list of familiar parties that may be responsible for medication errors:

  • Manufacturers may be responsible for providing defective medication, mislabeled products, or expired products.
  • Physicians can prescribe the wrong medication or dosage, fail to evaluate the patient’s health to identify risk factors, or miscommunicate a proper medication management regimen.
  • Pharmacies and pharmacy personnel may make mistakes when filling or mislabeling medication, causing a patient to take the wrong medication or improper dose.
  • Hospitals make medication errors when overworked or distracted staff provide the wrong medication to patients.
  • Patients may be liable for medication errors, failure to follow a physician’s instructions, or misusing/abusing prescription medication.

How can Patients Prevent Medication Errors?

Although the patient and medical personnel cannot avoid some medication errors if medication is defective upon delivery to a medical facility or pharmacy, however, patients can still be mindful of common issues to prevent medication errors—especially those with high-risk factors for injury or illness:

  • Verify dosing and frequency of all medications that may have severe side effects that could cause harm if taken incorrectly.
  • Ask physicians and pharmacists questions about a medication’s dosage and how frequently to take it.
  • Patients that believe a prescription is improperly written should notify the prescribing physician to avoid errors when submitting the paper prescription.
  • Communicate with your physician about adverse changes in medical conditions that may have resulted in taking a particular medication.
  • Express concerns with physicians and pharmacists about pre-existing conditions that may be impacted by new medication or a change in dosage.

Proving a Medication Error 

A plaintiff seeking compensation for a medication error must prove that the defendant, which can be the prescribing physician, the pharmacy distributing the medication, or the manufacturer of the medication, was responsible for the error. Patients should always take their medicine as prescribed, retain all medical records, seek medical treatment when feeling unwell, and communicate issues with their healthcare providers. Although no medication error lawsuit is guaranteed to succeed, patients harmed or at risk of harm from a medication error can monitor their health, communicate issues, and maintain proper records to collect evidence and prepare for possible legal action.  

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