Most medication errors are preventable, yet every year, some 7 million people in Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. fall victim to them. Worldwide, these errors are responsible for 2% to 5% of all hospital admissions. Thirty percent of those patients who are admitted suffer some degree of medication-related harm, with severe harm for 7%.
Hospitals and medical centers can do a lot to reduce the number of these errors, and it all starts with a few basic steps. A medication safety leader could be hired, for example, to create a program that will help improve safety. Pharmacists, with their medication-centered training and the unique relationship they have to patients, can lead the way in efforts to increase collaboration between medical professionals of different disciplines.
It also pays to address the various risk factors in medication errors, such as the advanced age of patients or their complex medication regimens. The use of high-alert medications, or drugs that are liable to cause serious harm if used improperly, is another risk factor.
High-alert, or high-risk, medications can include anticoagulants; opioids; insulin; antineoplastics, used to treat cancer; and anticholinergics, used to treat Parkinson’s disease and overactive bladders. Doctors should make sure patients understand how to take such medications. Concentrations should be standardized, preferably using national standards whenever available.
There is no way to eliminate all medication errors, but those who are harmed through such an error may still seek compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit. If successful, victims may be reimbursed for the cost of any unnecessary treatments they underwent, the physical and emotional pain they incurred and any lost wages. It may take a lawyer, though, to navigate the settlement negotiation process.