Millions of patients rely on prescription medications to treat and manage their conditions. When a patient receives the incorrect medicine or dosage, the outcome can be fatal. Every doctor, nurse, pharmacy and drug manufacturer has a duty to uphold the correct standards of care in creating, prescribing and administering medications. Unfortunately, negligent and careless parties involved in a patient’s care can make prescription errors that put the patient’s safety at risk.

Prescription Error Statistics

Medication errors should be rare in an industry that relies on care and precision, yet this is one of the most common types of medical mistakes. Physicians, nurses and pharmacies make prescription errors daily. Estimates of how many people medication mistakes adversely affect are around 1.5 million per year. It costs at least $3.5 billion per year to treat drug-related injuries from mistakes in hospitals alone. The price of medication error mortality is around $77 billion annually. The number of people injured and killed by prescription errors is significant enough to make patient safety a public concern.

Prescription Errors By Doctors

Physicians and nurses are behind many prescription errors. A doctor could make a mistake by prescribing the incorrect medicine or dosage to a patient. The doctor might not have looked into the patient’s medical history or the prescriptions he or she is currently taking for adverse drug interactions, or the doctor might have made an error in writing the prescription. A nurse could make a mistake in administering the medication to a patient, such as by giving the wrong dosage or medication or mixing up patients.

When doctors and nurses make medication errors, the results can be disastrous. The patient may not receive a drug he or she needs, leading to health problems the medication likely would have prevented. In some cases, the patient may take the wrong type of drug, which may have an adverse reaction with other medications he or she is already taking, leading to serious health complications. The wrong dosage could lead to an overdose and potentially fatal consequences. Any type of medication error by a doctor or nurse could lead to patient injuries, illnesses or deaths.

Pharmacy Mistakes

Other types of prescription mistakes happen at the pharmacy level of health care. Pharmacies can be busy and chaotic environments. Miscommunication and carelessness in pharmacies can lead to the pharmacy technician reading or filling the prescription incorrectly, or giving a medication to the wrong patient. Common reasons prescription errors happen at pharmacies include lack of proper protocols, incorrect product labeling and poor distribution practices.

Who Is Liable?

When beginning a prescription error lawsuit for related patient injuries or wrongful death, it is necessary to trace the mistake back to its source. Prescription medications go through many hands before ending up with the patient. A mistake by anyone who plays a part in getting the drug to the patient could be critical. Tracing the error back to its source can lead to the identity of the at-fault party, or defendant. Some cases involve the shared liability of multiple parties, such as a drug manufacturer for improperly marketing the medication and a doctor for failing to give the patient enough information about the drug before prescribing it.

If a doctor or nurse made the mistake, the hospital could be vicariously liable. The hospital will be liable for the actions of its employees, but not for independent contractors. The employment status of the person that made the mistake can determine the hospital’s liability. If a pharmacy staff member made the prescription error, the pharmacy could be liable as the employer.

The patient could have a product liability lawsuit, on the other hand, if the drug manufacturing company made a mistake in the creation, labeling or marketing of the drug that injured the patient. A lawsuit against the correct party could lead to compensation for the patient’s medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages related to the prescription error.