Medication errors are one of the most common causes of medical malpractice claims in the United States, and both patients and medical providers must know how to prevent medication errors. Although patients can take several steps to ensure their medications are safe, it is often up to doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to ensure medication errors do not happen.
The Five Rights
Patients have five rights when it comes to receiving medications from medical professionals:
- Correct medication. Medical professionals must ensure they administer the correct medication. Many medications have similar-sounding names and may have nearly identically spelled names. It’s up to providers to ensure they select the correct medication for a patient’s situation.
- Correct patient. Medical professionals must ensure they deliver the correct medication to the correct patient. This requires careful communication between all parties involved in a patient’s care and reviewing a patient’s chart and medical history before administering medication.
- Correct dosage. Whoever administers medication to a patient must ensure the dosage is acceptable. Too low a dose can be insufficient to address the patient’s issue while too high a dose can cause life-threatening problems.
- Correct delivery. Some medications require specific delivery methods, such as intravenous injection or oral tablets. Medical professionals must be sure to administer medication in the correct form.
- Correct timing. It’s often necessary to administer medications at the appropriate time. For example, providing a patient with anesthesia too soon may cause it to wear off before a procedure is complete.
Medical professionals can help limit medication error incidents by following these guidelines carefully and ensuring these five rights for every patient.
Communication and Patient Transfer
Many medication errors happen due to communication breakdowns. If a nurse mishears a doctor’s instructions and administers the wrong medication to a patient it can have disastrous consequences. When one healthcare facility transfers a patient to another they must be sure to include a complete record of the patient’s care and medication instructions. An incompletely transferred file can lead to medication errors or conflicting prescriptions. Finally, doctors must ensure their prescriptions are legible and accurate before giving them to a patient or sending the order to a patient’s pharmacy.
Some medication errors occur at the pharmacy or along the supply chain from drug manufacturer to pharmacy to patient. Drug manufacturers must ensure their products perform as advertised and meet all medical requirements for their intended use. They must also quickly assess complaints about dangerous or defective drugs. In some cases, the distributors, wholesalers, and retailers that sell medications can also absorb liability for medication errors if they mishandle, mislabel, or damage drugs on their way to pharmacies.
Pharmacists must follow the Five Rights as well when they fill patients’ prescriptions. This means communication with the patient’s prescribing doctor to clear up any ambiguity in a patient’s prescription, ensuring correct dosage and dose count, and filling the right prescriptions for the right patients.
In some cases, patients can make errors with their medications or other missteps that can lead to disastrous consequences. When it comes to prescription medications, it’s vital that patients carefully read and follow all of the warnings and instructions that accompany a prescription. For example, taking a medication at the wrong time or without following additional instructions (such as taking the medication with food) can lead to medical complications. In these cases, a patient may not have any legal grounds to sue because they caused the problem by not following directions.
Preoperative instructions are also crucial, as failing to follow them before receiving anesthesia can involve fatal consequences. If a doctor instructs a patient to fast for a day before a surgical procedure and the patient fails to do so, the doctor may not be able to complete the procedure, or the presence of food in the patient’s system can complicate the surgery. Ultimately doctors, pharmacists, and surgeons have a duty of care to provide the best standard of treatment possible in any given situation, but both medical professionals and patients have roles to play when it comes to preventing medication errors.