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Study uncovers causes of pharmaceutical errors in hospitals

If you ever require hospitalization because of a long-term illness or medical condition, prescription medication would likely be part of your treatment during your stay. As a result, you rely on the hospital staff to dispense the medication that is right for your condition during your hospitalization. Unfortunately, patients often do not receive the correct medication, which can cause unintended side effects, additional medical problems and even death. How is it that this type of hospital negligence continues to occur? The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority recently answered this question in a study on the subject.

Reasons for errors

During the study, the researchers looked at over 800 cases of patients receiving the wrong medication for their conditions. Although there are many causes of pharmaceutical errors, the study concluded that administrative errors were the primary cause, responsible for about 43 percent of all medication errors. Common instances where administrative errors occur are:

  • The wrong patient was chosen from an automated drug dispensing cabinet.
  • Instead of following proper patient identification procedures, the hospital staff relied on the patent or family to confirm the identity of the patient.
  • Because of multiple patients assigned to a room, the staff simply confused one patient with another.

Aside from administrative errors, the second leading cause of pharmaceutical errors was transcription errors. The study found that this type of error accounted for 38 percent of the total pharmaceutical errors. It was discovered that transcription errors typically occurred while the medication order was being transcribed to an electronic or paper administration record. In many cases, the person transferring the order would transfer the medication information from the wrong patient’s chart.

One may expect that prescription errors-where the physician simply prescribed the wrong medicine for the condition-would be a significant cause of pharmaceutical errors. However, the study found that this only occurred in 12 percent of cases. Likewise, dispensing errors-when medication was delivered to the wrong patient’s bin or the wrong label was used-only occurred in five percent of cases.

Speak to an attorney

Under Indiana law, hospitals have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that pharmaceutical errors do not occur. Failure to do so constitutes a form of medical malpractice. Unfortunately, for various reasons, hospitals are reluctant to implement solutions such as electronic patient identification bracelets that would minimize the risk of this error.

If you or a loved one has suffered after receiving the wrong medication, you may be entitled to compensation under the law. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can work to discover the identity of the responsible parties and hold them accountable for their negligence.

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