Nearly one in every seven hospital patients experiences a medical care error of some sort, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly one-third of those mistakes involve medication errors, with consequences that range from delayed recovery and longer hospital stays to permanent disability and even death.
The Mayo Clinic defines medication error as any event that causes a drug to be used improperly, such as administering the wrong dosage or the wrong medication altogether, or mixing medications that interact in a dangerous way. In most cases, these mistakes occur in hospitals, doctor's offices and pharmacies.
Electronic Systems Cut Medication Errors by 60 Percent
The good news is that switching to a computerized prescription system has been shown to reduce medication errors by as much as 60 percent. Electronic prescription systems eliminate much of the guesswork involved in deciphering prescriptions from doctors whose handwriting may be difficult to read.
In a study that tracked medication errors in two Australian hospitals, researchers found that the number of incomplete or unclear prescriptions dropped from the hundreds to the single digits after the installation of computerized prescription systems.
In addition to reducing the impact of poor penmanship, electronic systems reduce the likelihood of other errors by tracking data about each patient and automatically warning doctors about potentially harmful drug interactions, allergies or other errors. Computerized systems also help reduce the risk of errors caused by ambiguous abbreviations or similar sounding drug names.
Protect Yourself by Staying Informed
Whether or not your healthcare provider uses a computer system for your prescriptions, you can help protect yourself from the risk of medication errors by communicating with your doctor about the medications you use. Whenever you receive a new prescription, be sure to ask for the following information:
- What is the name of the medication and what is it for?
- How much should you take and how often?
- Should you avoid certain food, drinks, activities or other medications while taking it?
- How will the drug interact with other medications or supplements you are already taking?
- Does is contain any ingredients that you are allergic to?
If you or a loved one has experienced harmful effects as a result of medication error, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss the possibility of seeking compensation.