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Drug Errors and Legal Remedies: What You Need to Know

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According to the World Health Organization, one in every 10 patients is harmed in health care. There are several ways a patient’s health and well-being may be put in danger. These include patient misidentification, diagnostic errors, unsafe injection practices, and even surgical errors. 

However, one of the most common sources of patient harm is drug errors. Each year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) receives approximately 100,000 reports related to this issue, and half of all drug errors affect patients over 60. But what exactly are drug errors?

What Is a Drug Error?

There remains no widely accepted uniform definition of a medication or drug error. Nevertheless, the National Coordinating Council for Medical Error Reporting and Prevention states that a medication or drug error is “… any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the healthcare professional, patient, or consumer.”

How Does It Happen

A medication or drug error is essentially a failure in the treatment process that harms or will potentially cause harm to a patient. An example is when a doctor decides which medicine to use. And what type of dosage should be prescribed to his or her patient. If the prescription is irrational, inappropriate, or ineffective, then it’s a drug error. 

Another instance is when mistakes are made upon dispensing the drug’s formulation. These include giving the wrong medicine, formulation, or label. Administering the wrong dose, route, frequency, or duration also constitutes a drug error. 

Who Could Be at Fault

While drug errors are usually trivial, there are instances when a mistake is serious. Such as experiencing adverse drug reactions or worse. Consulting a legal expert is highly recommended so you will be guided as to how you can pursue compensation for your financial, physical, and emotional hardships. 

  • Drug Manufacturers. Going to court against a pharmaceutical company for a drug error is very similar to taking legal action against any other business that makes a bad product. You must prove that the product was defective in at least one way. Design flaws refer to negative effects that the drugmaker knew from the start or should have known but probably didn’t show up after testing. On the other hand, manufacturing flaws occur when the drug is being produced and include unsafe formulation or contaminated ingredients. Lastly, there’s “failure to warn,” which is a marketing defect. It occurs when the drug manufacturing company failed to provide the consumer or the doctor with sufficient information about the side effects of the drug.
  • Doctors. If a medical practitioner was not careful and gave you a drug that put you in harm’s way, this is called medical malpractice. An example of this is when your doctor prescribes a drug that was made for an entirely different disease than the one that he or she was supposed to treat. Medical malpractice also happens when your doctor under-prescribes or overprescribes a drug. The same goes for when the healthcare professional did not take into account your allergies or the other medications you’ve been taking.
  • Pharmacists. Much like doctors, pharmacists are also bound to their legal duty to act responsibly when dispensing medicines. They, too, could be held negligent should they give a patient the wrong medication or wrong dosage. Other common pitfalls include transcribing the doctor’s prescription incorrectly, failure to notice a drug contraindication, and attaching the wrong label to the medication bottle. Regardless, both doctors and pharmacists have to work together to ensure that the patient’s medications will, in fact, treat them rather than hurt them.
  • Nurses. As you know, nurses are generally in charge of administering medications to the people under their care. Like doctors and pharmacists, nurses can also make the mistake of giving the wrong medicine and dosage to the patient. Other drug errors they may make include administering intravenous drugs with the wrong infusion rate and not adhering to the administration time or schedule prescribed by the doctor. A nurse may also prepare the medication incorrectly or give the drug to the wrong patient. Whether in a school, hospital, nursing home, correctional facility, or a patient’s home, nurses are expected to be diligent with care.

Promoting patient safety and avoiding preventable events like drug error should be the primary goals of every healthcare provider. Appropriate systems help protect patients from many different mistakes that can harm them. For these reasons, healthcare service institutions should implement standard processes and reporting systems should drug errors occur.

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