There are 3 types of prescription errors commonly seen by medical malpractice attorneys in Illinois. Prescription errors are one of the most common types of medical errors experienced by patients. When a patient suffers harm due to medication errors, he or she may have an actionable case of medical negligence or medical malpractice against the party who prescribed the medication.

3 Types of Prescription Errors

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Division of Patient Safety, more than 98,000 people die each year in the United States due to preventable medication errors. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of other patients experience some type of harm, but do not report an adverse reaction or other medication complications that occur.

Prescription errors can occur at different stages in a medication’s development, and distribution, including product manufacturing, product labeling and packaging, product distribution, product compounding, prescription by a physician, the filling of prescriptions by a pharmacy, and when a patient takes the medication.

Medication errors are most common at the ordering or prescribing stage. Drug therapy by a medical professional is a complex process that requires knowledge of the patient’s prior health history, the patient’s medical condition, and the patient’s adverse reactions to medications. Writing the wrong prescription, prescribing the wrong dosage, and prescribing the wrong frequency are the 3 most common types of prescription errors, accounting for at least 50% of all medication errors. Many errors related to medication dosage occur due to illegible handwriting of prescriptions by physicians, misunderstood symbols, use of abbreviations, and improper translations by pharmacies. Other errors include:

  • Incorrect patient diagnosis
  • Incorrect patient information
  • Prescribing the wrong medication
  • Prescribing the wrong dosage
  • Mislabeling the medication
  • Dispensing errors by a pharmacy

The term “dispensing error” refers to medication errors linked to a pharmacy or health care professional who dispenses the medication. These include errors of commission, such as dispensing the wrong drug or wrong dose through an incorrect entry into a computer system, and errors of omission such as ambiguous language on a label, failure to provide proper dosage information, and failure to screen for patient interactions with other drugs.

What Can Happen if You Take the Wrong Dosage of Medicine?

Types of prescription errors related to dosages include overdoses, under-doses, extra doses, or any dosage that is different from what was ordered. Taking the wrong dosage of medicine can result in dangerous and even life-threatening consequences. Many prescription medications have serious side effects when taken in the incorrect dosage. Common side effects include nausea or vomiting, dizziness, allergic reactions, heart palpitations, liver and kidney dysfunction, weight gain or weight loss, and psychological problems. More than 200 prescription medications, including birth control pills, blood pressure medications, and heartburn relievers, have possible side effects that include depression and suicidal thoughts.

Prescription medications have more serious dangers associated with them than over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. To prevent serious side effects, it’s important that pharmacists issue the correct drug (the one prescribed by the doctor) at the correct dosage. When filling prescriptions, errors often occur due to difficult-to-read physician handwriting, similar-looking pills, and rushed work by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. In Illinois, registered pharmacy technicians may, under the supervision of a pharmacist, assist in the medication dispensing process, receive new verbal prescription orders, and offer counseling.

Taking the wrong dosage of medicine can cause serious medical complications, especially for children, elderly adults, and people taking multiple medications at the same time. Proper dosage for children is usually based on the child’s age and weight. Elderly adults and people taking multiple medications have a higher risk of overdose and life-threatening conditions.

Steps a Patient Can Take to Help Prevent Medication Errors

According to the Institute of Medicine, medication errors are preventable injuries, typically caused by careless or negligent actions. Approximately 25% of medication errors reported to national medication error reporting programs result from confusion with drug names that look or sound alike. Approximately 11% of medication errors are classified as wrong drug errors, where one drug was prescribed, dispensed, or administered in place of another drug.

Unfortunately, medication errors do occur, but there are steps patients can take to prevent errors and stay safe. If you are taking prescription medications, it’s important to follow safety tips.

Check for Errors

About 2% of all prescriptions are dispensed incorrectly. You may get the wrong medication or the wrong dose in the wrong form. When you pick up your prescription at the pharmacy counter, read the label to make sure it’s the medication your doctor ordered. If you’re refilling your prescription, open the container to see if the pills match the ones you have been taking.

Follow the Directions

Almost half of the drugs dispensed for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and long-term health conditions are not taken as directed by doctors. Keep a list of all your prescription medications and make it a habit to take them at the same time each day if possible. If you forget to take your medications, use a pillbox with the days of the week, and put it in a visible location, or download a pill reminder app.

Don’t Overdo Pain Relievers

If you’re taking prescription pain relievers, follow the directions carefully. Pain relievers like anti-depressants, anti-seizure medications, muscle relaxers, opioids, steroids, and topical skin patches can have serious and even life-threatening side effects when used incorrectly. For your safety, never increase the dosage of prescription pain relievers without talking to your doctor first.

Don’t Cut Up Your Pills

Never cut up your pills unless your doctor or pharmacist tells you it’s okay. Some pills should be taken whole because they’re coated to release slowly, to protect your stomach, or to bind two medications together. If you’re told it’s okay to split your pills, cut them one at a time as you go so they won’t break down from heat or humidity. Use a pill cutter, or ask your pharmacist about scored tablets.

Don’t Mix Medications With Other Drugs or Alcohol

When taking prescription medications, check with your doctor first before mixing them with other types of drugs to avoid serious reactions and side effects. Avoid using narcotics and alcohol while taking prescription medications like cold medicines and sleeping pills that can make you drowsy. Alcohol can also interact with some ingredients in medications and damage your liver.

Who Can Be Held Responsible for Medication Errors?

The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error and Prevention (NCCMERP) has approved the following definition for a medication error: “… any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm, while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer.” Such events may be related to professional practice, healthcare products, procedures, and systems including prescribing, order communication, product labeling, packaging, and compounding, dispensing, distribution, administration, education, monitoring, and use.

In Illinois, the Pharmacy Practice Act regulates the practice of pharmacies within the state to prevent pharmaceutical errors, including:

  • Adverse drug side effects
  • Incorrectly filling a prescription
  • Incorrect labeling
  • Incorrect dosage
  • Drug interactions
  • Incorrect instructions regarding the usage

When a patient in Illinois is harmed by a negligent act or failure to act by a doctor, nurse, physician’s assistant, pharmacist, or others involved with prescription medications, it may be an actionable case for a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer.

The case may involve failure to follow procedures established to prevent medication errors, as well as failure to diagnose, treat, or manage a medication overdose or the administration of incorrect medications. Depending on the circumstances, a medical malpractice lawsuit that seeks compensation for the victim may be brought against a hospital, hospital staff, physicians, nurses, medical staff, and pharmacists involved.

Filing a Lawsuit

When medication errors result in illness or injury to a patient, that patient has the legal right to file a medication error lawsuit against the at-fault party or parties for damages if medical negligence caused the error. However, to have a valid lawsuit that will stand up in court, the patient must suffer illness or injury as a result of the negligent action.

A medication error lawsuit begins with a period of discovery that may last for 30 – 60 days. During this time, lawyers will gather and review case information such as medical records and statements from medical professionals. Once all evidence is reviewed and discussed, the case may be settled or proceed to a civil court trial.

To have a valid case and sue for damages, you must prove that medical negligence occurred by proving four factors:

1- A doctor-patient relationship existed; 2- A breach of the standard duty of care occurred; 3- The breach of duty of care caused the patient’s injury; and 4- The patient suffered damages.

In Illinois, the statute of limitations dictates that you have 2 years from the date of the injury, or from the date you could reasonably be expected to have discovered the injury, to file a medication error lawsuit in civil court.