The FDA estimates that medication errors cause at least one death every day and injure about 1.3 million people annually in the U.S. Adverse drug events cause around 700,000 emergency room visits and about 100,000 hospitalizations every year. It is estimated that nearly 5% of hospitalized patients will be harmed by medication errors. Medication errors cause 3.3 million outpatient visits each year.
Clearly, medication errors are a very big problem. Common causes of medication errors include:
1. Lack of appropriate safety systems, policies and procedures;
2. Safety systems not monitored, evaluated or updated;
3. Not following safety rules, policies and procedures;
4. Poorly designed systems or systems that allow medical personnel to avoid the systems;
5. Lack of resources to verify medication information;
6. Lack of knowledge or training;
7. Faulty communication;
9. Environmental issues such as distractions, interruptions and chaotic circumstances;
10. Ambiguous directions;
11. Illegible handwriting;
12. Misinterpreted medical abbreviations;
13. Look alike and sound alike drugs;
14. Patients not following instructions;
15. Language barriers; and
16. Memory lapses.
This list borrowed from an article by Mindy Cohen, a forensic nurse and legal nurse consultant. To this list we can certainly add the disappearance of the neighborhood pharmacy. Most patients no longer have a relationship of any consequence with their pharmacist, if they have a relationship at all.
To avoid being a victim of medication errors, I suggest these practical steps:
1. Discuss your medications thoroughly with your doctor. Understand what you are to take, the proper dosage and times, and the reasons you are taking each medication.
2. If you are hospitalized, it is always best to have a spouse, family member or friend consult with the staff to make sure that the medications you are given are correct. This is not always easy because busy hospital staff can give the impression that questions are bothersome, meddling, irritating and out of line. Nevertheless, patient advocates are helpful.
3. If you or a loved one are in a nursing home, it is of great importance for a family member or friend to be aware of what medications should be given and to verify that the medications are being given as directed. If any change in the resident’s condition is noted, it may be due to improper medication. Be vigilant about a resident being over medicated with sedating drugs.
4. Become acquainted with your pharmacist. They are a terrific source of information.
5. Check all medications and the labels before you take them. It is not that uncommon for a busy pharmacy to make a mistake. If you are unsure you have what you are supposed to have, ask questions. Do not make the assumption that you have been given the correct drug and the proper dosage.