Prescription errors that may or may not result in harm to a patient happen at a pharmacy, but also hospitals, doctor offices, ambulances, nursing homes, day care centers, and patients' homes. They result from a breakdown somewhere in the chain of processing the medication – from the writing of the prescription to the administration of the drug.
Factors that contribute to prescription errors include someone who is rushed and does not take the time to match details of a drug's appearance; misreading or misunderstanding the prescription instructions; or mislabeling of the drug. Besides the familiar bottles or tubes consumers typically pick up at a pharmacy, prescriptions also are commonly administered via IV drips and syringes.
Here are 12 of the most common types of prescription errors:
1. Errors in the administration of the incorrect amount of the drug, giving the wrong drug, or administering the drug the wrong way are reported among the most common types of prescription errors.
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When the color, shape, form, or packaging of the prescription looks different. Mislabeled containers or an incorrect dose, frequency, or duration are examples of other types of errors.
3. Unlabeled prescription containers and syringes can cause errors. Only about one-third of 1000 nurses surveyed across the US reported that they always label syringes, which suggests that about 28% never label them when administering medications. Concerned nurses say that consistent labeling is needed to reduce medication errors.
4. Nurses also reported difficulties with labels on syringes that make it impossible to read the measurement gradation on a syringe barrel. Other label interferences reported in the survey of nurses included labels that make it hard to handle a syringe or attach it to a pump, as well as labels that come off too easily.
5. Failure to report to the physician the names of all prescription and over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, or herbal preparations. Every time a prescription is written, these questions should be asked.
6. People not catching prescription errors. Refills need to be checked as meticulously as first-time fills to make sure there are no errors.
7. Errors happen when staff members inadvertently leave medications unlabeled before finishing the job. Upon returning, it can be easy for an error to occur in dosage, name, or amount of medication.
8. During the process of administering a drug is when about half of all harmful prescription errors happen, and about two-thirds of those involve injectable drugs. Some of the reasons for these errors happen in manually calculating complex data such as converting a dose from mg to mmol, when multiple steps are required to prepare the drug as in syringe-to-syringe transfer, use of a filter, or when special thinners are required. Having to prepare a drug in special areas other than the pharmacy where necessary equipment or tools may be unavailable invites such errors.
9. Errors during codes include administering the wrong dose, wrong concentration, wrong drug, delayed or omitted doses, and problems with the medication delivery device.
10. Doctors may click on the wrong medication in the drop down box of electronic prescription technology. As government regulations require physicians to switch to electronic means of keeping medical records and ordering prescription drugs, errors can happen when their eyes are tired, if the print is too small, or if the cursor is not in the correct field when selected and no one catches the error.
11. Look-alike drugs, drugs with too-similar names, and using abbreviations instead of writing out the name of a drug are high risk factors in the dispensing of medications. Tall man lettering, which uses a combination of uppercase and lowercase labeling, can reduce the risk associated with these errors.
12. Getting multiple medications for the same patient mixed up can cause multiple errors. People 55 to 65 years and older are more likely to experience one or more of these errors because many of them may be taking five to ten different medications at a time.
Medication errors can be prevented, but it takes a network of healthcare professionals working with the patient. When medication errors do occur, and injuries are sustained, you may need to call upon a medical injury attorney to help. One who has extensive experience in medical malpractice cases can be especially helping when dealing with prescription medication errors.