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Medication mistakes occur more often than you'd think

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Last year, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine determined that medical mistakes were the third most common cause of death in the U.S. Their study also indicated that at least 250,000 people die each year from these mostly preventable errors. Medication mistakes are at the top of the list.

How common are medication errors?

The Unites States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that at least one person dies each day due to a medication mistake. An estimated 1.3 million people suffer harm from medication errors each year. The number of annual deaths has grown to more than 250,000 Americans.

The reason for the astonishingly high number of prescription and medication errors is that the drug distribution system has so many steps, from prescribing, packaging, and administering, to monitoring reactions. All of these steps leave a lot of room for mistakes, such as the following:

  • Confusing product names, incorrect directions, and medical abbreviations compounded by poor handwriting
  • Poor dispensing techniques, procedures, and training
  • Inadequate communication between patients, prescribing doctors, nurses, and pharmacists
  • Patient mistakes due to confusing instructions for use

How can I help avoid medical mistakes?

As a patient, you can help avoid medication error injury or death. 

If you are in the hospital:

  • Make sure all those involved in your care have seen your medication list
  • Ask your doctor for the names, dosages, and reasons for any new prescriptions or over-the-counter (OTC) medications
  • When a nurse or other medical provider gives you a medication, ask for the name and dose of the medication and compare that with what your doctor ordered
  • Do not take a medication unless you understand what it is and what it is for

At home:

  • Confirm the name and dose of your medication when you pick it up
  • Talk to your doctor before taking OTC supplements, vitamins, or minerals 
  • If you have a bad reaction to a medication, contact your doctor immediately

Helping to make things better

Electronic prescription protocols are helping to avoid errors. Your doctor can prescribe your medication electronically, directly contacting your pharmacy. This helps limit human error due to poor handwriting, hearing orders incorrectly, and poor documentation. E-prescribing systems usually check new prescriptions against your personal medications and signal your provider if the new prescription conflicts with other medications you take.

If you have suffered harm or loss from a medical error, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, lost income due to illness, and pain and suffering. Contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to learn about your options and preserve your rights.

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