Prescription Drug or Medication Errors as Medical Malpractice

If you're given the wrong dose of a drug - or the wrong medication altogether - who is on the legal hook?

Medical malpractice can be caused by a number of different actions (or failures to act) on the part of a health care professional, but the main cause of medical malpractice will always boil down to medical negligence, which means a health care provider’s failure to exercise the degree of care and skill of a competent health care provider who practices the provider’s specialty, taking into account the advances in the profession and resources available to the provider.

Prescription drug errors are a common form of medical malpractice, and we'll discuss these cases in detail in this article.

What is a Prescription Drug Error?

There are numerous types of prescription drug errors. Some of the more common include:

  • administering the patient the wrong medication
  • administering the patient the wrong dosage of medication (i.e., too much or too little medication)
  • mislabeling the medication
  • prescribing the patient a medication that the patient is allergic to
  • prescribing the patient a medication that interacts negatively with other medications that the patient is taking, and
  • failing to warn the patient of the common side effects of the medication.

Who Can Be Liable in a Lawsuit for Prescription Drug Errors?

In a nutshell, anyone and everyone who is involved with prescribing medications can be liable for prescription drug errors. This includes physicians, nurses, hospitals, the pharmacy departments in the hospitals, pharmacists, and the pharmaceutical manufacturer.

Administering Wrong Medication or Wrong Dosage

Physicians and nurses can be liable for prescribing and/or administering the wrong medication. They can simply make a mistake about what medication should be prescribed or what dosage to prescribe. It is shockingly easy to administer the wrong amount of medication. If, for example, any of the health care providers in the entire medication chain (from doctor to nurse to pharmacist) misses or transposes a decimal point, the patient could be administered ten or a hundred times too much or too little medication.

Different medications have to be administered in different ways. For example, if the medication is to be administered by shot, the nurse might give the shot in the wrong place. Different drugs have to be injected into the body in different places. For example, some drugs must be injected in muscles, while others have to be injected directly into the bloodstream. Failure to administer the medication in the proper manner in this case would likely make the nurse liable in a lawsuit.

Physicians and nurses can also be held liable for bad handwriting. You have probably heard about doctors’ notoriously poor penmanship. But bad handwriting on prescriptions is a serious matter. If the pharmacist misreads the prescription, the patient will receive the wrong medication, and whoever wrote the prescription is going to be held liable. Luckily, this type of negligence is fading away as many health care providers are now switching to electronic prescriptions, in which the prescription is sent electronically directly to the pharmacy.

Mislabeling the Medication

Sometimes, medications are mislabeled. This can happen either before the medication leaves the manufacturer or at the pharmacy. Either way, if a medication is mislabeled, the patient will receive the wrong medication or the wrong dosage. If the manufacturer or retailer mislabels the medication, that will usually result in a products liability lawsuit. If the pharmacist mislabels the medication, that will be a medical malpractice case. An experienced attorney will be able to identify and explain the difference between these two types of cases.

Prescribing Harmful Medication (Allergies and Interaction)

This type of prescription drug error is usually the fault of the pharmacist. It is generally the pharmacist’s job to keep track of what a patient’s allergies are and what other medications the patient is taking (to avoid harmful interactions between more than one medication), although your doctor should have this information as well.
This is one reason why you should always use the same pharmacy for all of your prescriptions. That way, your pharmacist will have all of your prescription records handy and can advise you and your doctors if one of your medications conflict with any others.

Failing to Warn of Side Effects

This can be the job of the doctor or nurse who prescribed the medication, as well as that of the pharmacist. They need to tell the patient what the common side effects of medications are, as well as what types of foods the patient should avoid when taking a certain medication. For example, numerous medications, including medications for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, do not work properly with patients who eat grapefruit. That is just one example. There are many others. You should always ask your doctor about your medication’s side effects, including foods and drinks that you should not have while taking the medication.

Consequences & Damages in a Legal Claim

The effect of a prescription drug error can range from minimal to fatal, depending on the nature of the error. If you suspect that you received the wrong medication, you should contact your pharmacist and your physician at once and follow their instructions. It is better to safe than sorry. If you believe that you were the victim of a prescription drug error and you've suffered harm as a result, you should contact a qualified medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible.

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