If you’ve ever had trouble reading somebody else’s handwriting, you can probably understand how common prescription errors used to be. Even with the rise of electronic prescribing (eRx), however, these errors continue to plague the medical community and forever alter the lives of medical malpractice victims.
Like before, many of these mistakes are a result of human factors. Doctors may be fatigued, unfamiliar with digital systems, or unaware of more appropriate options. Drugs may be prescribed to the wrong patient, at the wrong dosage, in the wrong quantity, or with the wrong dosage formulation.
While incorrect drug quantity, improper duration of therapy, misleading directions, and formula inaccuracies were the 4 most common prescription errors according to Medscape, the following 7 situations have the potential to be fatal:
Situation #1: Prescribing the Wrong Drug
Many drugs look and sound alike, which becomes an issue when doctors are making prescriptions via alphabetized, drop-down lists and quick clicks on a digital system.
For example, penicillin, used to treat common illnesses like strep throat, looks similar to penicillamine, which is used to eliminate excess copper in a rare genetic disorder called Wilson Disease. If used on the wrong patient, chelating drugs like penicillamine can lead to harm and even death.
Similarly, the brand-name Brintellix® (vortioxetine) is designed to treat major depressive disorders and Brilinta® (ticagrelor) is a prescription blood thinner. When used improperly, both of these medications can lead to serious side effects and/or death.
Situation #2: Formula Errors
Sometimes, differences in a drug’s formula are expressed using simple modifiers, such as SR, XL, and ER. While they appear to be 2-letter differences, prescribing the wrong formula can put a patient at risk. For instance, Depakote ER is an extended-release tablet and Depakote delayed-release tablets distribute the dose all at once. When used to treat seizure disorders, this could be the difference between a patient’s successful treatment and avoidable injury.
Providing the correct formulation is important in all cases, as formulations of the same drug are not bioequivalent, nor interchangeable. Prescribers have a responsibility to be familiar with the different modifiers on drugs they prescribe and should always be explicit in dosing directions to help pharmacists identify potential errors.
Situation #3: Ignoring Alerts
When a doctor makes an electronic prescription, they will be alerted to errors. Unfortunately, these alerts are frequently dismissed due to the sheer number of “roadblocks” electronic systems present to physicians. Nevertheless, ignoring a valid alert and going forward with an incorrect prescription could constitute medical malpractice.
Situation #4: Failure to Adjust
Although successful in treating some ailments, many drugs have secondary effects. If a physician prescribes the drug without accounting for its (long-term) side effects on the body, they can cause serious harm.
One example is the relationship between the antibiotic, vancomycin, and renal failure, especially in older adults. Another is opioid painkillers and their potential for addiction.
These drugs should be administered carefully, and patients should be observed throughout their treatment. If any issues arise, doctors should adjust accordingly. Failure to do so could be deadly.
Situation #5: Distractions and Mobile Prescribing
Now more than ever before, doctors are making prescriptions and changing prescriptions on their smartphones. If they are interrupted, they are much more likely to make a fatal mistake.
You wouldn’t want a surgeon reading a text message while performing your procedure for obvious reasons; the same principle can be applied to physicians making prescriptions.
Situation #6: Incorrect Input
With digitized information, a single error can quickly compound without a second glance. If a baby’s weight is entered as 25 kg instead of 25 lb., for instance, automated calculations will recommend a higher dose than what is safe for a fragile infant’s body. Extremely young and extremely old patients can be affected by the slightest error, so it is important for medical providers to double-check their work at each stage of the prescription process.
Situation #7: Missed Marks
Electronic systems are not immune to misunderstanding. Sometimes, decimal points are hard to read, which results in incorrect dosage. Other times, medical professionals are not familiar with complicated abbreviations. If writing out the name of a medication or adding a clarifying zero could have saved a patient’s life or health, a prescriber could almost certainly be held liable for medical malpractice.
Prescription Errors Are Never Acceptable
Being treated for an illness or injury requires trust between doctors, pharmacists, and patients. Mistakes like the ones outlined above are never alright and it is never acceptable for a medical provider to put you or your loved ones at risk.
If you or someone you care for has been harmed by a prescription error, contact Rash Mueller. today.
Our experienced medical malpractice and prescription error attorneys can be reached at (954) 914-7116, or you can schedule a free consultation with our firm online.
If a careless oversight has jeopardized your wellbeing, we look forward to speaking with you and pursuing justice on your behalf!