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Medication errors: how they occur, and how they can affect you

It can be tempting to think of medical malpractice in terms of mistakes made in hospital settings during significant medical procedures such as surgeries. However, while doctor errors such as perforating an organ with a surgical instrument or a mistake in administering anesthesia are real examples of how you can suffer an injury in a health care environment, another common form of medical malpractice can occur outside of the hospital, and even when you are at home: medication errors.

Anyone who suffers harm such as a worsened medical condition or overdose arising from a mistake involving prescription medications may have a cause of action for medical malpractice, hospital negligence or both. In such an event, a personal injury law firm experienced with medical claims may be of assistance in identifying and pursuing either a settlement or legal cause of action.

Medication errors can take a variety of forms, including:

  • mistakes in communication, which can include poor handwriting by the prescribing physician leading to a misinterpretation of which drug to prescribe or the correct dosage amount;
  • prescribing the wrong drug based on confusingly similar drug names or packaging; and
  • mistakes made in identifying the unit of measure for dosage amounts or the dosage frequency.

The Food and Drug Administration maintains a voluntary reporting system for medication errors under its "MedWatch" program. Since the year 2000 this program has recorded almost 100,000 instances of medication errors, but because of its voluntary origin this figure may not represent the true scale of the problem; the FDA reviews and analyzes approximately 1,400 medication errors monthly, some of which almost certainly occurring in Louisiana.

The purpose of these reviews is to help identify and reduce the common sources of medication errors and, coupled with patients who are actively engaged in asking questions about understanding their prescriptions, may be an effective way in reducing the frequency of such mistakes. But it is also clear that such mistakes continue to happen, and when they do serious health consequences can and do result.

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