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Patients at risk of medication errors

Medication errors are among the most dangerous of all forms of medical mistakes, causing roughly 1.5 million injuries in the U.S. each year.

Medical errors are a tragic reality to all too many patients in New York and around the country today. These can include inaccurate diagnoses, completely missed diagnoses and mistakes during surgeries. Errors involving medications can also cause patients to suffer injuries or even to die in some cases.


The Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy reports that every year in the U.S., more than one and a half million medication error injuries occur. On the list of medical mistakes that cause serious injury, those mistakes involving medications rank number four according to Psychology Today. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration explains that the lack of reporting of all errors means that the extent of medication errors may be much greater than what statistics show.

Errors can be introduced at many points

There are many points along the path from manufacture to consumption of a drug at which an error can be introduced. Manufacturers and marketers of pharmaceutical products can be at the root of a problem just as easily as can a physician, pharmacist, nurse or other care provider.

Drug packaging, labelling, naming, compounding, monitoring, use, education, distribution and dispensing can all be part of a situation which leaves an innocent patient suffering unnecessarily. True medication errors are identified as being preventable by the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error and Prevention.

Prescription vs. prescribing faults

The National Center for Biotechnology Information distinguishes two unique types of error factors. In one situation, a physician or other provider makes an error in judgement when deciding on a drug choice, dosage or protocol. This is referred to as a prescribing fault.

In another situation, a problem arises when the original instructions authored by a provider are not appropriately carried out. This is referred to as a prescription fault. Examples of both of these types of errors can be seen in the following list:

• Very complex prescription orders that are difficult to understand.

• The order of a drug inconsistent with or inappropriate for a patient's condition.

• The prescription of a drug that may negatively interact with another drug also taken by the patient.

• Inaccurate reading of a handwritten drug order.

• The order of a drug to which a patient has previously stated an allergy to.

Many medications have names that are similar in either spelling or pronunciation to other medications. This can cause misinterpretations which result in a patient being dispensed the wrong drug.

Patient safety matters

Errors that involve medications should not be treated lightly by New Yorkers. Consulting with an experienced lawyer when these problems are suspected is recommended.

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