Prescriptions & Medical Errors: What You Need to Know

Heart disease and cancer remain, year after year, the two leading causes of death in the United States. Capturing the bronze – medical errors.

Medical errors. According to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, more than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors, taking a back seat to heart disease and cancer only. Medical error has been defined as an unintended act or one that does not achieve its intended outcome, the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended, the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim, or a deviation from the process of care that may or may not cause harm to the patient. Indeed, many medical errors do not result in death; however, the above referenced study focused on lethal errors only. Thus, the annual death toll of 250,000 – an immense figure – underrepresents the occurrence of harmful medical errors in the U.S.

Prescriptions and prescription errors. Prescription errors are a frequently occurring type of medical error. According to the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, prescription errors encompass mistakes in writing prescriptions, irrational prescribing, inappropriate prescribing, under-prescribing, over-prescribing and ineffective prescribing arising from erroneous medical judgment. Whether a particular error results in an overdose, allergic reaction or some other type of patient harm, prescription errors may be quite dangerous. The most common causes of prescription errors are (1) poor communication between health care providers; (2) poor communication between providers and their patients; and (3) sound-alike medication names and medical abbreviations. Fortunately, however, prescription errors and other medical errors are preventable.

Medication reconciliation. Practice “medication reconciliation” by sharing with your physician the names of all medications that you are taking, medications that you are allergic to or that have caused problems for you in the past, whether you have chronic/serious health problems and if you might become pregnant. Keep an up-to-date list of all your medications, including nonprescription and herbal products, to assist the “medication reconciliation” process.

Communications. The best defense against medical errors is communication. If you do not understand something that your doctor or pharmacist says, ask for an explanation. Equally important, ask questions of your doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns related to your treatment/medications.

Do not assume. Treating with the wrong prescription or dosage could cause bodily harm or death. Therefore, always read the label on your prescription package to ensure that you have received the appropriate medication. Do not assume that you will receive the correct prescriptions/dosages from the pharmacy.

Educate yourself. Do some independent research of your own. A simple “Google” search can provide you with some information about your medications and your own knowledge of the process may help your physician avoid medical errors in the future.