Errors in the prescribing and dispensing of medication are increasingly widespread problems that pose significant danger to consumers. The Food and Drug Administration defines a Medication Error as “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medical use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer.” According to a Johns Hopkins Study released in 2016, over 250,000 deaths per year in the United States are due to medical errors. This indicates that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. While there are many government oversight programs, such as the FDA MedWatch program and state administrative programs, medication errors continue to unnecessarily cause harm and death.
Injuries from medication errors may involve a wide variety of healthcare providers, including pharmacies, home infusion companies, nursing homes, hospitals, physicians, nurses, and even medication couriers. The researchers at Johns Hopkins concluded that “most errors represent systemic problems, including poorly coordinated care, fragmented insurance networks, the absence or under use of safety nets, and other protocols,” as well as physicians that are not following standard practices.
Medication errors can happen in a wide variety of ways. It can be as simple as a pharmacy labeling a prescription bottle correctly then placing the wrong pills into the bottle. Sometimes medication errors occur because medical or pharmacy staff lack adequate training or oversight, or when the facility of pharmacy are understaffed. Errors may also happen where the patient has no chance to verify the correctness of the medication, such as when the medicine is administered intravenously or a patient is unconscious or mentally incompetent. Many mistakes result from communication errors between physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and patients.