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MEDICATION (DRUG) ERRORS. As defined by the National Coordinating Council for Medical Error Reporting and Prevention, 

“A medication error is 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. Such events may be related to professional practice, health care products, procedures, and systems, including prescribing, order communication, product labeling, packaging, and nomenclature, compounding, dispensing, distribution, administration, education, monitoring, and use."

Medical research indicates that 7000 - 9000 deaths occur in the U.S. alone from medication errors. Far more patients experience an adverse reaction to a medication, many involving severe pain and suffering along with the emotional and psychological cost.

As the above definition suggests, medication errors by healthcare providers can happen anywhere along the way; broadly speaking, that includes production and labeling by pharmaceutical companies to ordering and prescribing by physicians to dispensing by pharmacies to in-patient administration and monitoring, routinely done by hospital staff. Not uncommonly, an incorrect dose is prescribed, or excessive frequency, and sometimes the wrong medication, and the initial error is compounded by the failure by others in the chain to realize it prior to the harmful consequences that result. 

In some instances it is essential to consider a patient’s age and body weight when prescribing. Small children and the elderly can be particularly sensitive. It can also be critical to take into account the functioning of a patient’s liver and/or kidneys. If they are working at diminished levels, medications may not get broken down or excreted properly and excessive amounts of a drug builds up in the patient’s system.

As with many other aspects of medicine, errors can and do occur for a variety of preventable reasons, including such issues as being distracted when entering or signing off on a prescription or order, inadequate communication, failure to appreciate the condition of a specific patient, misinterpretation of an order, or not considering potential adverse interactions with other medications the patient is taking. 

While nothing may have been able to be done to prevent the first time a patient exhibits an allergic reaction to a medication, many of the failures that cause medication errors simply should not happen. In those circumstances the physician and/or members of the healthcare team are responsible for the adverse outcome. And the impact of a medication error can be disastrous for the patient.

A careful analysis of where in the healthcare chain a link, or more than one, failed is essential to ascertaining and demonstrating responsibility for the highly traumatic events that result from a medication error. In his lengthy career Pat has engaged in this process dozens of times and is highly qualified to assist patients and their families with this process.


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