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Protecting the rights of medication error victims


Table of Contents

Health care professionals generally work hard and provide quality care; nevertheless they are human, and humans can make mistakes. In the case of medication errors, mistakes can cause serious injury or death. Victims or, worst case, the surviving family members of decedents, need an attorney to protect their rights in these unfortunate situations.

A medication error is “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,” according to the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention. The council is comprised of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and more than 25 other international and national organizations that recommend error-prevention strategies.

From 1992 to 2013, the FDA received nearly 30,000 voluntary reports of medications errors. It is a figure that the agency believes is substantially lower than the actual number of errors that occur nationwide.

The Institute of Medicine estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths per year may be the result of medication errors in hospitals alone. And more than 7,000 deaths each year are related to medications. These mistakes include pharmacy errors and anesthesia errors.

The following is an error report from the FDA: “A physician ordered a 260-milligram preparation of Taxol for a patient, but the pharmacist prepared 260 milligrams of Taxotere instead. Both are chemotherapy drugs used for different types of cancer and with different recommended doses. The patient died several days later…”

Sometimes, the drug is right but the amount administered is wrong, as was the case in this FDA report: “An older patient with rheumatoid arthritis died after receiving an overdose of methotrexate – a 10-milligram daily dose of the drug rather than the intended 10-milligram weekly dose. Some dosing mix-ups have occurred because daily dosing of methotrexate is typically used to treat people with cancer, while low weekly doses of the drug have been prescribed for other conditions, such as arthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease.”

An anesthesia error is just as serious. Consider the case of Jacquelyn Ley, who was a 9-year-old student suffering from a shattered elbow that she suffered in a soccer game. Following three hours of surgery, the child received the pain medicine morphine through a pump. “Her recovery was going so well that doctors decided to turn off the morphine pump and to forgo regular checks of her vital signs,” according to an FDA report on the Minnesota incident.

Jacquelyn’s mother, physician Dr. Carol Ley, slept in her daughter’s hospital room that night. She checked on her daughter and learned that Jacquelyn was barely breathing. As it turned out, the morphine pump had accidently been turned up high rather than shut down, flooding the child’s body with morphine.

“I called her name, but she wouldn’t respond,” Carol said. “I shook her and called for help. If three more hours had gone by, I don’t think Jacquelyn would have survived. Fortunately, I woke up.”

This anesthesia error was a very close call.

The Institute of Medicine nine years ago recommended protective steps that patients can take. In regard to preventing pharmacy errors, the institute recommended the following:

  • Make sure the name of the drug (brand or generic) and the directions for use received at the pharmacy are the same as that written down by the prescriber.
  • Know that you can review your list of medications with the pharmacist for additional safety.
  • Know that you have the right to counseling by the pharmacist if you have any questions. You can ask the pharmacist to explain how to properly take the drug, the side effects of the drug, and what to do if you experience side effects (just as you did with your prescriber).
  • Ask for written information about the medication.

In a hospital setting, according to the IOM, a patient can ask the doctor or nurse what drugs he or she is being given and take the drug after being told the drug’s purpose. Additionally, the IOM wrote, “Prior to discharge, ask for a list of the medications that you should be taking at home, have a provider review them with you, and be sure you understand how these medications should be taken.” These are just a few precautions.

The important thing to know, as a victim or as the family member of a victim, is that pharmacy errors and anesthesia errors are considered medical malpractice, and he or she may be entitled to compensation. The medical malpractice attorneys at Reich & Binstock have handled these and other personal injury cases since 1984. Reich & Binstock’s attorneys have the specialized expertise that this oft-complex type of litigation necessitates, and they will fight hard to protect the rights of the victim. Reich & Binstock operates in all 50 states.

For a free consultation to determine whether there is an entitlement to compensation, call Reich & Binstock toll-free at 1-866-LAW-2400 or contact the law firm through this website.

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