Are Medication Errors Medical Malpractice?
Medication errors by doctors, nurses, and hospitals are unfortunately very common. Some studies indicate that there is one medication error every day for every inpatient in a hospital.[i] Even more unfortunately, some of these medication errors can be devastating to patients. For example, a recent story highlighted by the media told the story of a toddler who died after being mistakenly given twenty times the normal amount of medication for a procedure.[ii]
Given how prevalent and dangerous these mistakes are, it is important to know the answer to the question: are medication errors medical malpractice?
Medication errors may be due to multiple reasons, and medical professionals recognize that four types of mistakes in dispensing medication can occur. Those mistakes are the following:[iii]
- Knowledge-based errors, which are errors where a doctor gives a medication without knowing if the patient has an allergy or will suffer an adverse reaction to that medication. These types of errors typically occur when healthcare providers don’t have enough information about the particular drug or about the patient. These types of preventable errors can be avoided with increased knowledge about the medication and the patient. Education of the doctor of medications, conditions, and patients is key to avoiding these critical errors.
- Rule-based errors, where nurses and doctors either apply a “bad rule” or misapply a good rule. An example of this is when a doctor prescribes the proper medication but does so at the incorrect time or in the incorrect way.
- Action-based errors, also known as “slips of attention,” occur when doctors or pharmacists mistakenly grab the wrong medication for a patient. These types of careless mistakes may also occur when healthcare providers confuse medication names and prescribe the incorrect medication or make some other preventable error due to not paying proper attention to the important task at hand.
- Memory-based actions, also known as “lapses,” are also careless errors that occur when a physician is aware of the patient’s allergies or other dangerous condition but the doctor mistakenly prescribes or administers medicine despite that awareness. The doctor just simply forgets. This is an easily preventable error that can be eliminated by having proper checklists and warnings in a patient’s chart.
- Technical errors are errors that occur due to a doctor writing illegibly or other similar errors in communication that may occur between prescribing and administering the drug.
The consequences of a hospital making a medical error can be catastrophic. Patients who receive incorrect or improper medication may develop significant injuries or even die due to these preventable errors. Hospitals can avoid many of these problems by implementing checklists and other systems to make sure overworked and fatigued doctors and nurses do not make unnecessary and preventable errors.
If you or a loved one has suffered a significant injury or death from a medication error, it is important that you speak with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. For a free, confidential consultation, please contact Robert E. Byrne, Jr., at (434) 817-3100 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.