The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention defines a medication error as being any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer. Medication errors can occur during prescribing, packaging, dispensing, labeling, administration, use, education, or monitoring. Prescribing of the wrong medication due to similar names of medications, and prescribing or administering the wrong dose are two of the most dangerous types of medication errors.
Government Agencies Responsible for Reducing Medication Errors
The Division of Medication Error and Prevention Analysis, or the DMEPA, is a United States government agency appointed to identify and reduce the risk of medication errors. DMEPA is responsible for analyzing medication error data and finding solutions to mitigate the risk of medication errors. DMEPA works with the Institute for Safe Medication Practices and the United States Pharmacopeia to implement systems geared towards reducing the likelihood of errors, especially educating those in charge of prescribing, administering, or filling prescriptions.
Medication Error Statistics
The Center for Disease control and Prevention estimates that about 700,000 patients are rushed to an emergency care facility in the United States each year because of a preventable medication error, including the prescribing of the wrong medication. About 120,000 patients are hospitalized in the U.S. each year due to medication errors. About eighty-two percent of American adults take at least one prescription drug. Twenty-nine percent of American adults take five or more prescription drugs.
The elderly population takes a disproportionate amount of the drugs that are prescribed in America each day, accounting for about thirty-five percent of all prescription medication use, and about fifty percent of all medication errors. Being that elderly citizens account for only about twelve percent of the current population, this is substantial. About ninety percent of all Medicare patients use prescription medications. Elderly patients are more likely to be involved in a medication error because the number of prescriptions that elderly patients take is normally much higher than the younger population. This makes it much easier to miscount the number of pills, or miss a critical dosage recommendation. Being housed in a nursing home or other care facility and having medications administered may also increase the risk of medication errors in the elderly population.
Occurrence of Wrong Medication Administration
The wrong medication can be administered because of labeling errors or pharmacy or health care confusion between two medications with similar names. If a large order of medication is mislabeled, it can be highly detrimental as the pharmacy or health care facility then disperses the drug, believing it to be a different medication. This is an extreme case, but mislabeling and the resulting administration of wrong medication on smaller levels is common. Pharmacies, hospitals, and nursing homes often make critical errors in administering drugs with similar names that have very different uses.
Understaffing can cause the administration of wrong medication occurrences to spike. If a pharmacy, hospital, or nursing home is understaffed, the workers are rushed to distribute or administer the medication. Rushed handling of large numbers of different prescriptions greatly increases the likelihood that the wrong medication will be administered in a nursing home or hospital setting. In a pharmacy setting, rushing makes it more likely that medications will be given to the wrong patient ,or the wrong dosage or label will be printed on the bottle. Understaffing of a pharmacy also makes it more difficult for pharmacies to communicate thoroughly and effectively with doctors, increasing the likelihood of the wrong medication being given.
Handling an Occurrence of Medication Error or Wrong Medication Administration
If it is suspected that a patient is suffering from adverse reactions due to a medication error or the taking of a wrong medication, medical assistance should be sought immediately. If it is determined that the medication error was the fault of a nursing home, pharmacy, or health care facility, an attorney should be contacted as soon as possible. An attorney will be able to direct patients who have suffered from medication errors or taking the wrong medication on the best course of action to recover costs due to medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. An attorney can also help family members that have had a loved one pass away due to a medication error.
“Medication Safety Program.” Centers for Disease control and Prevention. Centers for Disease control and Prevention, 14 Aug 2012. Web. 27 Sep 2013. <http://www.cdc.gov/MedicationSafety/basics.html>.
“Medication Errors.” F.D.A. U.S. Food and Drug administration. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 08 Aug 2013. Web. 27 Sep 2013. <http://www.fda.gov/drugs/drugsafety/medicationerrors/default.htm>.
“Wrong Patient Medication Errors: An Analysis of Event Reports in Pennsylvania and Strategies for Prevention.” Reviews and Analyses. Institute for Safe Medication Practices, n.d. Web. 27 Sep 2013. <http://www.health.mil/Libraries/PSPDocuments/2013_wrongpatient_prepub.pdf>.