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HPS LEGAL ALERT: THE CHALLENGES OF UNCOVERING MEDICATION ERROR-RELATED MALPRACTICE

By Richard L. Allen, Jr.

June 7, 2022

There are approximately 6,800 prescription and numerous over-the-counter medications and supplements that people in the U.S. use to treat a variety of health problems. Even the best physician, nurse, pharmacist or technician cannot be familiar with all exact dose amounts, routes of administration, and the types of drug interactions that can occur. Unfortunately, in the U.S., this results in 7,000-9,000 people dying and thousands more suffering injuries per year, all because of health care providers making medication errors. It is fairly simple to recognize an obvious case of medical malpractice, like when the surgeon leaves a sponge or clamp in the abdomen. But many drug injuries are not so easy to identify. 

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) is the only 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization devoted entirely to the study of preventing medication errors and is known as the “the gold standard for medication safety information.” Experts at the ISMP have conducted numerous studies on several areas where problems can occur, including: 

  1. error-prone abbreviations
  2. unclear dose designations
  3. confusing drug names
  4. errors administering high-alert medications
  5. failure to adhere to established guidelines

Examples of Medication Errors

Oftentimes, medication errors occur when distractions interfere with the health care provider’s attention. These errors range from prescribing errors, dose miscalculation, incorrect dose administration, and failed communication. Hospital cost-cutting may also be a contributing factor. For example, a patient suffering a stroke due to blot clots could be accepted as a natural consequence. Or did the clots form as a result of the drug error? An insufficient dose of heparin could actually be the cause of their pulmonary embolus or stroke. Or, a patient fails to wake up after surgery. It could have been a rare but unavoidable reaction to anesthesia. But was the patient on a pain pump? How much fentanyl did the patient receive before during and after surgery? The medicines prescribed and how they were administered will need to be reviewed, in order to eliminate or highlight possible root causes of the patient’s drug-related injury.

The Electronic Evidence Trail

Federal law requires that medical record software records every entry made and changed, who made the entry, what time was it entered, every time a record is accessed, and from what computer terminal. Certain medical devices also have data stored in them and are a treasure trove of information. And don’t forget that it is routine for health care employees to communicate on electronic devices at work on with each other on certain patient issues. So there are various and voluminous sources of electronic data that should also be examined.

Key Takeaways

These are just some of the scenarios that need to be explored when presented with a possible medication error medical malpractice case. Even more challenging is what specific evidence to look for, and where, in order to support the suspicion of a problem with the ordering, preparing, distributing or administering of a drug. Consulting with an attorney with a pharmaceutical background, who is familiar with how medications are prescribed and administered, can assist in determining whether this particular type of malpractice case has occurred. If you are dealing with a medical malpractice case (medication error-related or otherwise) and would like to discuss your options, please contact Rick Allen, or any other member of our Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm legal team.

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