Posted by Bill Sandweg on 22 October 2018.
If you spend more than a few days in the hospital, you are likely to become the victim of hospital malpractice. Modern hospital medicine is so incredibly complicated, it is news if there is no mistake made in your care. Hospital malpractice may come in many forms but the most common form is a medication error. The good news is that most of the time medication errors do not result in a serious injury.
Medication errors occur with alarming frequency. Common medication errors are wrong medication, wrong time, wrong patient, wrong dose, wrong method of administration, failure to administer, and failure to consider allergies. Depending on the magnitude of the error, the results can be anything from trivial to fatal. One of the first malpractice cases I worked on as a young lawyer involved the administration of a medication to an infant. The decimal point in the order was in the wrong place and no one noticed. The little boy was given a dose 100 times stronger than was intended. He was permanently brain damaged as a result.
A study which was published in a prestigious medical journal attempted to determine just how frequent medication errors were. The researchers selected 36 hospitals in Georgia and Colorado. The institutions fell into three categories, hospitals that had been certified by the Joint Commission of Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, hospitals that had not been accredited, and skilled nursing facilities. The researchers monitored medication passes by the nurses for up to four days. When an error was found, a panel of physicians determined the clinical significance of the error. Errors were common.
In the 36 institutions, almost one in every five medications was dispensed incorrectly. The most common errors were among the usual suspects: wrong time, failure to administer, and wrong dose. The panel of physicians determined that 7% of the medication errors were potentially harmful. This works out to 40 per day in a typical 300 bed institution. That is a lot of potentially harmful errors.
So what can you do to protect yourself from becoming the victim of a medication error? The first thing is to make a list of your medications and the correct dosage. Ask nurses to let you know if the doctor prescribes a new medication or orders that you stop taking one of your current medications. If a new medication is ordered, ask whether it conflicts with any of your current medications. If a medication is stopped, ask why it was stopped and what has been done to replace it. Keep your medication list updated with this information.
Be sure you know to what medications you are allergic. If you have a serious allergy, be sure to ask the nurse if that allergy is reflected on your chart.
Whenever a nurse comes into your room to administer a medication, make sure the nurse is actually coming to see you. Have the nurse state your name in full.
Have the nurse identify the medication and the dosage. Check it against your list. Do not take any medications not on your list or in different quantities or strengths than on your list. This can be a problem as nurses may be insistent that this is indeed a medication or dose you were taking at home when you know it is not.
Is this the right time for your medication? Was another nurse just in here with your medication? Where is your medication? If the nurse has not come with a medication you know you should be taking, ask where it is.
Have a friend or a loved one with you to help with the medications as often you will be too drowsy or impaired to know whether the nurse is giving you the right medication or not.
You have the right to refuse a medication. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Don’t hesitate to ask for a supervisor, if you have questions that remain unanswered.
There is much in a hospital that happens out of sight of the patient. No matter how many questions you ask of a nurse, you can’t be sure that the doctor did not make a mistake in ordering a new medication for you or in stopping one of your current medications. That is not something the nurse can address no matter how careful he or she may be. These suggestions will improve your chances of getting out of the hospital without a serious medication created problem. Good luck.