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Medication Errors and Medical Malpractice

Determining Liability for Prescription Drug Injuries in Pennsylvania

Between 1992 and 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tracked approximately 30,000 medication errors across the US — since these are voluntary reports, the agency believes that the actual number of errors was much higher. Medication errors can arise due to one or several factors, including failing to factor in pre-existing conditions or other medications the patient is taking, or failing to properly account for a patient’s age, height, weight, or body chemistry. Unfortunately, in some cases medication errors can cause severe illness or injury or even death.

How Do Medication Errors Occur?

Medication errors are always considered preventable errors. There are numerous reasons why a medication error may occur, whether it be in the hospital, the doctor’s office, a pharmacy, or even a patient’s own home. Some of the common causes of medication errors include:

  • Multiple treating physicians failing to consult one another to understand a patient’s pre-existing conditions and avoid adverse interactions between medications prescribed by different physicians
  • Patients who fail to advise their doctors as to the drugs they use (including recreational drugs such as alcohol or marijuana)
  • Confusion among medical staff over similar-sounding drug names or similar-looking medications
  • Poor or inappropriate use of medical abbreviations which may result in administration of the wrong dose or wrong frequency of administration
  • Failure of a pharmacy to confirm a prescribing doctor’s orders
  • Nurses who fail to confirm the name and amount of medication they are about to administer
  • Nurses who fail to confirm the identity of a patient before administering medication
  • Nurses who fail to monitor a patient after administering medication for any adverse effects

Fortunately, many hospitals have implemented electronic systems that avoid transcription errors and utilize barcode technology to ensure that the right medication is administered to the right patient in the right amount. However, when medical staff fail to use this technology, it is unable to prevent medication errors.

How Medication Errors Constitute Medical Malpractice?

Medication errors may form the basis for a medical malpractice claim when a doctor or nurse is negligent in their administration of medication. For example, a doctor may miscalculate the correct medication dosage for a patient or may prescribe a certain medication that negatively interacts with another medication that the patient is taking, causing a serious adverse medication reaction to occur.

A pharmacy may commit medication errors by misreading a doctor’s handwritten prescription or failing to confirm the order with the physician or failing to confirm if there are published guidelines limiting the dosage amount and prescribing too much medication, causing a serious or fatal overdose. Or a nurse may commit errors including giving a patient an insufficient dose or an overdose, giving the wrong medication to a patient, giving a patient medication intended for another patient by failing to confirm the patient’s identity, or failing to monitor the patient’s vital signs as medication is administered and absorbed into the body. However, in many medication error cases, no one person is responsible for the negligence; instead, the error is caused by a communication breakdown among treating physicians, to the pharmacy, to the administering nurses.

Important Evidence in Medication Error Cases

Given the prevalence of electronic record keeping in hospitals, it is possible to track down through the various transactions between physician, pharmacy, and nurse as to where the medication error occurred. The patient’s medical chart and history are also important evidence in medication error cases, since it will show whether medical staff had confirmed whether a patient had allergies, pre-existing conditions, or were taking other medications that may cause adverse reactions to occur. The records will also identify all the medical staff responsible for a patient’s treatment, which will help narrow down which professionals may have been responsible for the medication error. Finally, many medication error cases will require expert testimony to establish the responsible staff member’s duty of care and how their actions failed to meet the standard of care.

Contact a Pittsburgh Medical Malpractice Attorney for a Consultation About Your Medication Errors Case in Pennsylvania

Were you or a loved one injured due to medical malpractice in Pennsylvania? Then you need to talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible for guidance on how to proceed. The Pittsburgh medication errors attorneys at Matzus Law LLC are prepared to assist you with your legal claim. We represent victims of negligent surgeons, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists throughout Pennsylvania, including Butler, Cranberry Township, Greensburg, and Washington. Call us today at (412) 206-5300 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation. Our main office is located at 310 Grant St., #3210, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.