How Medication Errors Work (and What You Should Know About Them)

Medication errors occur more frequently than most people believe. It’s all too easy for a doctor, a pharmacist, or another medical professional to slip up and either prescribe the wrong medication, or begin a chain of events that leads to improper administration.

In some cases, a medication error can result in little to no harm, with hardly noticeable effects in the patient. Other times, the results can be more severe; in some cases, a simple medication error can result in injury or death; and if you’re pregnant, it can result in birth injury or miscarriage.

So what types of medication errors are there, and how can you protect yourself?

Types of Medication Errors

Let’s look at some of the main types of medication errors that exist:

  1. Prescription error. General prescription errors can take many different forms, but they all involve a doctor prescribing the “wrong” medication. For example, a doctor may prescribe a medication that was once thought to be effective, but that may now be viewed as damaging or obsolete. A doctor may also mistake the name of one medication for the name of another, ultimately prescribing an ineffective or harmful drug instead. Additionally, many medications interact with each other, sometimes in harmful ways; if a doctor recommends a medication that conflicts with something you’re already taking, they may be held responsible for committing an error.

  2. Error by omission. In some cases, a medical prescription is practically necessary for you to get the care you need. If you need medication, but your doctor didn’t prescribe it to you, they could be responsible for your injuries or medical complications thereafter. This can be tricky to establish, since different doctors may recommend different forms of treatment. However, there are many clear cases in which a patient should have been prescribed a medication, but were denied that medication.

  3. Timing errors. It’s also possible to commit an error when it comes to timing. Different prescriptions may be recommended to take a specific number of times per day, such as 4 times per day (every 6 hours) or 6 times per day (every 4 hours). If your doctor or pharmacist provides you with inaccurate timing, or recommends a timing that your body can’t appropriately handle, they may be responsible for the damage that results.

  4. Dosage errors. Similarly, a doctor or medical professional may make a mistake when it comes to recommending the appropriate dosage. If you take too little of a prescription medication, it may not provide you with the benefits you need. If you take too much, you could run the risk of an overdose. This is especially dangerous if you’re taking multiple types of medications that interact with one another; a dose that’s too big could make matters more complicated.

  5. Misreading or misinterpretation errors. It’s a running joke that doctors have terrible handwriting, but in practice, this bad habit can have devastating consequences. If the doctor writes you a prescription for a drug that you or your pharmacist misinterpret, it could leave you with a medication that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to—or one that can cause active harm to you.

  6. Off-label prescription errors. Occasionally, a doctor will prescribe someone with a medication for purposes other than its original intention. This could be to capitalize on a beneficial side effect of that medication, or to provide relief from specific symptoms. While helpful in many cases, off-label prescription errors can also result in harm.

  7. Improper administration errors. Finally, you could experience harm if you’re given inaccurate, inappropriate, misleading, or otherwise incomplete instructions on how to administer your medication. You may also be administered a medication directly, by a nurse or a doctor at the hospital or doctor’s office; if this is done incorrectly, you could be injured.

What to Do If You Suspect a Medication Error

If you suspect there’s been a medication error, there are several steps you can take. First, if you’re not confident in your doctor’s prescription, you can always seek a second opinion. Another doctor may be able to verify the prescription’s accuracy or recommend a different course of action. If you’re suffering from pain, or a medical complication, it’s even more important to seek the guidance of another medical professional.

If you believe your doctor took an improper course of action, which led to your injury or the injury or death of someone you love, your best course of action is to contact a medical malpractice lawyer. A lawyer will talk with you about your options, including the nature and strength of your case. Together, you’ll decide whether or not to move forward with legal action against your medical provider.