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What common medication errors still need to be remedied?

Medication errors can be harmful and even deadly. Hospitals and other health care facilities have safeguards to help prevent them. So do pharmacies. However, people are human. They get rushed or tired and sometimes don't pay as much attention to the medications they're dispensing or administering as they should.

A highly publicized case just over a dozen years ago provides an example of how easily deadly errors can occur. It involved the twin newborn babies of actor Dennis Quaid and his wife. Not long after the babies were born, they developed staph infections. Because they were receiving antibiotics intravenously, the nurse at the hospital gave them heparin to help prevent blood clots.

However, instead of giving them each two 10-unit doses, she gave them 10,000-unit doses. A higher-dose bottle had been placed in the same bin as the bottles with the lower dosage, and the nurse used it by mistake.

Fortunately, the twins survived and recovered, and the hospital implemented a bar-coding system for medications to help prevent such errors. However, medication errors of all kinds continue to harm and kill patients.

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) recently published a list of ten errors and hazards that health care providers still need to address in the new year. These include:

  • The wrong drug being given because it has a similar label to another one
  • Pulling up the wrong drug because it has the same initial letters as another one
  • Mishearing drug orders from another medical professional
  • Overriding safeguards on automated dispensing cabinets

Patients can do their part when they receive a prescription from the pharmacy. Make sure the label on the bottle or other packaging has your name on it and the name of the drug you've been prescribed (or a generic version of it). The label should contain a description of what the drug looks like (like color, shape and markings). Make sure the medication in the container fits that description. Follow the dosing instructions. If it's a new medication, take some time to read the information the pharmacist gives you. Don't just throw it away.

If you're in a hospital, you trust those caring for you to take precautions to be sure they're giving you the correct medication in the proper dosage. If you or a loved one is harmed by a medication error, find out what your legal options are.

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