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Medical care specialists rarely report medication errors, study finds

Did you know that according to a recent study, patients and their families are not always told when hospitals make medication errors? A medication error is any incorrect administration of medicine. This can include failure to prescribe or administer the correct drug, a mistake in dosage, allergic interactions and other similar matters. When medication errors occur, they can have serious consequences to patients.

The study, reported in Critical Care Medicine, found that harmful medication errors occurred more often in intensive care units (ICUs). Furthermore, ICU patients and their families were less likely to be informed about an issue than patients in other types of hospitals.

Utilizing a database of about 840,000 reported medication errors from several U.S. hospitals between 1999 and 2005, researchers found that ICUs were responsible for about 6.6 percent of medication mistakes. Approximately 98 percent of errors did not harm patients; however, among those errors that did, such incidents were more likely to occur in ICUs.

In fact, 4 percent of errors in ICUs ended up injuring a patient. On the other hand, only 2 percent of errors in non-ICU hospital divisions caused harm. Scholars note that the increase in errors may be attributable to the weakened condition of ICU patients or the level of intensive treatment they receive.

The most common type of error concerns omissions or failing to give a patient needed medication. Harmful errors often involved intravenous lines and mistakes in dose calculations. At least 50 percent of the time, no actions are taken after a medication mistake.

Medication errors are common among other facets of the medical profession, such as internet-based medical consultations. Medical companies and insurers are increasingly offering services where patients can consult physicians online. According to a survey by Mercer, 15 percent of large employers use some form of telemedicine. However, some question whether diligence - especially in relation to prescribing medication - is lost through these virtual venues.

Critics of telemedicine note that mistakes in diagnoses are made without face-to-face communication. Without the ability to fully examine patients, many online doctors play it safe and prescribe medications. Unfortunately, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients treated through virtual appointments had higher antibiotic prescription rates for their sinus infections than those seen in person. Overprescribing can lead to very dangerous resistance to important medications.

When a doctor or pharmacist prescribes the wrong medication or dosage of a medication to a patient, this can result in severe consequences, including death. In such situations, the medical care specialists may be liable for their negligent actions.

If you believe that you or a family member was a victim of a negligent medication error, contact a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney. A lawyer can help you recover for the harm experienced from such carelessness.