When your local pharmacist handed you that new prescription your doctor ordered, did you consider that if he was careless that medication might not help, but harm?

Prescription error harms more than 1.5 million people every year, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine. The resulting cost of death and injury has been estimated at $77 billion annually.1

Types of Medication Errors

Common medication errors happen when a pharmacist or technician gives you:

  • an incorrectly filled prescription
  • the wrong medication
  • the incorrect dosage
  • a medication to which you are allergic
  • a medication that you should not receive because of a health condition
  • inadequate communication regarding dosage, drug interactions, or contraindications

Risk Factors for Prescription Error

Certain conditions in hospital and community pharmacies create a risk of prescription error. Many factors can contribute to medication errors:2

  • disorganized work flow
  • fatigued staff
  • frequent interruptions and distractions
  • poor physician handwriting
  • an emphasis on volume over service quality
  • stress
  • ineffective communication with patients
  • improper technician training
  • inadequate staffing

Despite new technology — bar code scans, electronic medical records, automated medication dispensing, e-prescribing — medication errors still occur. In fact, pharmacists and technicians can override these systems.

Cases

When interviewing a family about a sudden or unexpected death, I review the medications the decedent was taking. I also review his or her medical records to evaluate whether there was a medication error. And I walk through the “Five Rights of Medication Administration,” which I was taught as a practicing nurse:

  1. Was the right drug ordered?
  2. Did the right patient receive the medication?
  3. Was the drug given by the right route (e.g., oral, intravenous, injection)?
  4. Was the right dosage given?
  5. Was the medication provided at the right frequency (i.e., three per day)?

When your family is affected by sudden, unexpected harm or death, reach out to me. Together we can review these rights to determine whether a medication error has occurred. And I will help you hold the pharmacy or pharmacists accountable.


Footnotes
1. Preventing Medication Errors, National Academies Press: 2007:124-5
2. National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authority