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How do medication errors occur, and can they be prevented?

On Behalf of | Mar 30, 2022 | Medical Malpractice |

Prescription medications can save someone’s life or improve their overall health. However, medication can also cause adverse reactions, especially when a medical mistake occurs. There is a reason why only licensed professionals can prescribe or dispense certain drugs.

Drugs can be dangerous on their own because they cause harm to the body or pose a risk of addiction. When someone takes more than one medication, the possibility of something going wrong increases. The wrong combination of drugs can cause a severe adverse reaction.

How do medication errors affect the body?

Sometimes, one drug negates another or amplifies the effect of other medications. When someone receives the wrong drug or dose, the risk of such interactions increases. Other times, a patient could have an allergic reaction when they receive the wrong medication.

A dose that is too high could cause kidney damage or worse, while an improperly low dose or missed doses could mean that treatment is not effective. Based on research published in 2021, between 7,000 and 9,000 patients die every year because of medication errors.

To understand why medication mistakes are so common and dangerous, you need to know how they occur. 

What are medication errors?

There are many kinds of medication errors. Medication errors occur when the person dispensing or administering a drug makes a mistake in what they give, when they give it or how they deliver the medication.

These errors may occur at a pharmacy, with someone putting the wrong medication into a prescription vial or improperly diluting a drug for IV administration. Medication mistakes also occur in hospitals and other care facilities when the people administering the medications make mistakes. Forgetting to dispense a drug, giving someone the wrong medication or improperly programming an IV machine are all examples of administration errors.

Most medication mistakes are preventable

When medication errors occur, they are typically the results of distraction, fatigue or confusion. Pharmacies, hospitals and medical practices can prevent medication errors with the right internal policies.

Eliminating distractions is an important means of reducing medication errors. Some hospitals even use barcodes or QR codes on labels and patient identification to avoid such mistakes.

Taking action after a medication error can compensate you and prompt changes at the facility where the mistake occurred.