Each one of us who takes prescription medicine expects that the medication will address a health problem and improve our condition. Many medications have accepted risks that are unavoidable. But medications prescribed incorrectly can cause serious harm as a result of preventable errors by a doctor, nurse or pharmacist. As a result of medication errors, many people suffer serious injuries and the Institute of Medicine estimates that 7000 deaths a year have resulted from this type of error.
Among the commonly reported types of medications errors are:
- Incorrect labeling of drugs;
- Incorrect drug dosage;
- Giving the medication for the wrong time period;
- Administering wrong medications;
- Failure to give medication;
- Confusion over similar drug names or unclear medical abbreviations;
- Failure to supervise and/or monitor the effects of the medication.
Medication errors may occur at any point in the process of compounding, prescribing, and administering a medication. Medication errors are also found to frequently cause serious harm before, during and immediately after surgery.
Drug-Related Errors During Surgery Surprisingly Common
A 2015 study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found nearly half of all surgeries performed at the hospital involved some kind of medication error. The study found that 124 of the 277 operations that were observed from 2013 to 2014 included a minimum of one medication error that caused harm to a patient. According to the study, which was published in the medical journal Anesthesiology, more than a third of these medication errors caused injury to patients, and three were life-threatening errors. It is unknown whether or not any of the medication errors led to long-term complications for the affected patients.
The specific degree and amount of harm that a medication error causes is dependent upon the type of drug administered, the amount of drug administered, and factors unique to the individual patient. A medication error may cause a patient to have an unintended drug side effect that is as mild as the development of a rash due to allergy, or as severe as paralysis or brain damage as a result of an anesthesia error.
The researchers said that the most commonly observed errors were mistakes in labeling, incorrect dosage, neglecting to treat a problem indicated by the patient’s vital signs and documentation errors. Medication errors were more common in longer surgeries, lasting more than six hours and involving 13 or more medication administrations. They said that 80 percent of the adverse drug events they observed were determined to be preventable.
Prior to the new study, there have been few studies of surgery-related medication errors, and much of the information was dependent on doctors reporting their own mistakes. That has led to an undercount of errors. The researchers suggested that the higher than expected rate of surgery-related medication errors at Massachusetts General was likely comparable to that of other U.S. hospitals.
Who Is Liable for Harm Caused by a Medication Errors?
When a medication error is made during surgery that results in patient harm, the affected patient is often left wondering who is responsible and can they receive compensation for his or her injuries. This is especially true in the event that the harm is significant, making further medical treatment (other surgeries, hospital time, or medications) necessary, or/and causing long-term complications for the patient.
In the event that the error was preventable and would not have occurred but for the negligent actions of the hospital, pharmacist, physician, operating room staff, or/and nurses, and the error resulted in significant harm, then the above parties may be held liable for damages. In order to hold a health care provider liable, you will need to file a medical malpractice suit where you prove that:
- A relationship existed between you and the at-fault party (i.e., you were a patient seeking surgery or treatment from a doctor);
- The at-fault party breached the standard of care owed to you;
- The breach of the standard of care was the cause of the error; and
- The error resulted in damages for you (medical bills, disability, pain, lost wages, etc.).
Filing a Medical Malpractice Suit for Medication Mistakes
Indiana imposes a strict law regarding the amount of time that victims of medical malpractice, including medication mistakes, have to take action after harm has occurred. According to Indiana Code section 34-18-7-1(b), a claim may only be brought against a medical professional for an act of malpractice within two years after the alleged act of malpractice has occurred, although in rare circumstances there may be exceptions.
If you do not file your claim within two years’ time, you may be barred from recovering damages for the harm you have suffered. For this reason, it is essential that you take action as soon as possible if you suspect that you or a loved one has been harmed by a medication error. A claim for malpractice can produce compensation to cover losses that you have suffered. In the event that a medication error is fatal, surviving family members can recover damages on the decedent’s behalf through a wrongful death claim.
Take Action Today to Call an Indianapolis Medical Malpractice Attorney
There are some things that should never happen including a preventable medication error that causes harm to a patient. When this does happen, victims have the right to legal recourse.
If you have believe that you have suffered serious harm from a medication error, you may be unsure what to do next or where to turn. You should contact the Indiana medical malpractice lawyers at Baker & Gilchrist who have dedicated our law practice to helping people injured by medical negligence. If you or a loved one has been injured, you deserve a strong advocate to investigate what happened and advocate for you. The law is on your side. If you are ready to speak with an experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice attorney about what to do next and how you can start the claims process, the team at Baker & Gilchrist will meet with you. Contact us online to schedule your free case consultation, or call us for immediate answers today.