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When Do Medication Errors Become Malpractice?

As we have written about previously, there are approximately 6,800 prescription medications available in the United States. In addition, there are countless over-the-counter drugs, health supplements, herbs and other concoctions used by the public regularly to treat their health problems. Given these large numbers, medical professionals make mistakes in the ordering and disseminating of these drugs and other healthcare-related products. 

There is also the risk of negative interactions between medications and other products. It is estimated that 7,000 to 9,000 people die each year from medication errors and that hundreds of thousands of other people have an adverse reaction but don’t report it. In addition to the monetary costs involved, patients experience psychological and physical pain and suffering as a result of medication errors. Another major consequence of medication errors is that it leads to decreased patient satisfaction and a growing lack of trust in doctors and the healthcare system. 

Medication errors occur during the ordering, prescribing, dispensing, administering and monitoring of drugs. The most common system failures include:

  • Inaccurate transcription of an order 
  • Failure to obtain a patient’s allergy history
  • Incomplete order checking
  • Mistakes in tracking of the medication orders
  • Poor professional communication
  • Unavailability of or inaccurate patient information

When Do These Errors Rise to the Level of Malpractice? 

Medication errors become malpractice when they result in harm or injury to a patient due to negligence, substandard care, or a breach of the standard of care expected from a healthcare professional. Said another way, malpractice typically involves a failure to provide the level of care and expertise that another reasonable and prudent healthcare provider would have offered in a similar situation.

Several factors contribute to determining whether a medication error amounts to malpractice, including:

  • Negligence: If a healthcare provider fails to follow established protocols, guidelines, or standards of care when administering medication, and this failure results in harm to the patient, it may be considered malpractice.
  • Harm or Injury: If the medication error leads to a patient’s injury, exacerbation of a medical condition, or any adverse health outcome, it could be considered malpractice.
  • Standard of Care: If it can be proven that the healthcare provider deviated from the standard of care expected in their field, which directly resulted in harm to the patient, it could be considered malpractice.
  • Causation: There needs to be a clear and direct link between the medication error and the harm suffered by the patient. The error must be directly responsible for the injury.
  • Documentation and Evidence: The availability of records, documentation, and evidence that demonstrate the deviation from standard protocols and the resulting harm to the patient is crucial in determining whether malpractice occurred.

In some cases, errors may occur without rising to the level of malpractice, especially if they are identified promptly and corrected without causing patient harm. However, when a medication error leads to significant harm or injury due to negligence or a deviation from the standard of care, it may be considered malpractice.

Contact HPS

Legal recourse and liability for medication errors that constitute malpractice will often depend on the specific circumstances of the case and may involve civil lawsuits, professional disciplinary actions, or insurance claims. If you believe that you have been harmed due to a medication error, it’s important to consult an attorney promptly. There is a two-year statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit, and the information-gathering process can be time-consuming. Consult a Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm Fort Lauderdale medical malpractice attorney or Orlando medical malpractice lawyer right away to review the specifics of your case, help you understand your rights, and guide you through the legal process. Medical malpractice cases can be complex, and seeking legal advice early is essential to preserve your rights. For a free and confidential legal consultation contact us online or call us at 1-800-693-4465.