5 Causes of Medication Errors and How To Prevent Them

August 29, 2023

Medication errors statistics are troubling. Every year, seven million patients in the U.S. experience medication errors, and 7,000 to 9,000 will die from the complications. In addition to the lives lost, these errors have enormous financial implications, costing $40 billion annually.

Medication errors are preventable events that happen because of negligence. If you or a loved one has suffered from a medication error, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.

Learn about the causes of medication errors and how to prevent them.

Common Types of Medication Errors

There are several causes of medication errors, but these are the most common:

Communication Breakdown

Effective communication is indispensable to providing safe care, and a lack of it between providers can cause medication errors. Some of the most common medication errors happen because of poor communication. Sometimes, mistakes occur because the pharmacist could not read the doctor’s prescription due to illegible writing or because the doctor did not update the pharmacist about a change in treatment.

Other times, communication breakdown occurs in the doctor-patient relationship. For example, a medication error can occur because the doctor did not note vital health information that the patient mentioned or failed to inform them about the potential side effects of a prescribed medication.

Look-Alike Sound-Alike (LASA) Medication Errors

LASA medication errors occur when medications have names that sound alike, look alike, or have similar product packaging. The error can happen during the prescribing, dispensing, or administration of medicines. LASA drug errors can result in inappropriate medication, under-dosing, or overdosing, and they can cause severe complications and even death.

LASA mistakes are one of the most common causes of medication errors. It is estimated that they occur in 25% of medication error cases. This issue is such a serious concern that the Institute for Safe Medication Practice publishes a list of confused drug names, which are drug pairs that are likely to be mistaken. On July 27, 2023, it added 80 drug pairs to the list, which brings it to more than 520 drug pairs.

Here are some real-life examples of medication errors associated with LASA drugs:

  • An 80-year-old woman was admitted because of a recurrent major depressive disorder with psychotic symptoms. Her medication included clopidogrel. However, the nurse dispensed and administered clozapine because she was under time pressure and didn’t read the prescription correctly. The patient became critically unconscious and had to be taken to the ICU. Fortunately, she recovered.
  • A hospital employee administered a dose of insulin instead of influenza vaccine to 50 hospital employees. The confusion stemmed from the similarity in the appearance of the medication vials. The incident led to the hospitalization of multiple symptomatic individuals.

Incorrect Medication Doses

A patient must be given the proper medication doses based on their age, weight, and health condition. If the dose is too low, it may not treat the condition, and if it is too high, it can harm the patient.

Wrong dose errors are adverse events that happen when a patient receives an inaccurate dose. Often, it happens during drug administration. For example, a distracted nurse may administer a dose higher than the doctor's prescription. Sometimes, a pharmacist may fill the correct drug but provide the wrong dosage because of a mathematical or packaging error.

Improper Administration Technique

There are different avenues of drug administration, and they are determined by the part of the body being treated, the way the drug works within the body, and the drug formula. The most common methods are pills that are swallowed and drugs that are injected into a vein or an IV line. However, there are other ways, including injecting drugs into the spine (intrathecal) or intramuscularly into a muscle.

Medication errors caused by a mistake in administration technique occur when a healthcare provider administers a drug in the wrong way. For example, a doctor prescribes that a drug be given orally and the nurse administers it intravenously.

Inadequate Quality of Care

When the level of care hospitals or providers render to patients falls below the accepted standard, it increases the risk of medication errors. This may give the victims the right to sue the hospital for medical negligence.

Sometimes, medication errors in hospitals occur because management prioritizes profit over patient safety. For example, in order to cut costs, a hospital fails to train its nurses properly. The lack of training and knowledge can produce both poor quality of nursing care and medication errors.

How To Prevent Errors in Medication

Many of the factors behind medication errors are beyond your control. However, there are measures you can take to prevent medication errors or at least identify them early before they cause you harm.

Get Regular Checkups

One way to prevent medication errors is to visit your healthcare provider for regular checkups. The appointments will provide opportunities to discuss your medications, address any concerns, and verify that your medications are in line with your health condition. During these visits, share your symptoms or any side effects you have noticed. This can provide insight that can help identify a medication error.

Address Knowledge Gaps

Obtain all relevant information about your medications, including what they do and possible side effects. If you are confused about the dosage guidelines, potential interactions with other medications or supplements, or how the drug is expected to work, request clarification. By being well-informed, you can take early steps if you notice a drug is not working as designed, which may be a sign of a medication error.

Keep Medical Records Up-to-Date

Your healthcare providers need all of your vital health information to provide safe care. Inform them about your complete medical history, including drug allergies, past illnesses, surgeries, and current medications. Also, update your doctor and pharmacist about any change in your health status or medication plan.

Seek a Specialized Lawyer for Your Medical Malpractice Case

If you have suffered an injury because of a medication error, an experienced medication errors lawyer can help you understand your case and your right to compensation. Nobody deserves to suffer from medication errors, which are often preventable. Contact us to consult with a medication errors attorney at McEldrew Purtell. We can also help if you are the victim of another medical malpractice issue, such as unsafe pharmaceutical drugs or medical devices. Our skilled and compassionate lawyers will help you pursue compensation for your injuries.