Medical malpractice is a national epidemic. A study in the Journal of Patient Safety found that hospital errors cause more than 210,000 deaths per year, making medical mistakes the third most common cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer. The stories that usually make the headlines are cases of egregious errors such as operating on the wrong body part or leaving surgical equipment inside the body cavity. Meanwhile the most common mistakes are more mundane but can be just as deadly.
Medication mistakes, including pharmacy errors, are one of the most common types of medical malpractice, causing injury to 1.3 million people in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Medication errors can include doctors prescribing the wrong medication or incorrect dose, hospital staff administering the wrong medication or incorrect dose, or pharmacists making errors in filling prescriptions.
A new study in the American Journal of Health-Systems Pharmacy found that pharmacists made more errors when they had more prescriptions to fill. The researchers studied 50 pharmacists at a medical center over the course of one year, and caught 92 errors out of 1.8 million medication orders. The researchers found that when pharmacists had to verify more than 400 orders per shift, the error rate increased significantly. The most common types of errors reported were the wrong medication or incorrect dose.
Patients can protect themselves by becoming more involved with and informed about their own health care. When your doctor prescribes medication, you should understand why you need it and what effects it is supposed to have. Discuss any concerns you have with your doctor. In the hospital, make sure you are told what medication is being administered. If your medication changes, ask why. When you have a prescription filled by a pharmacist, ask the pharmacist to go over the medication and instructions to make sure the right drug is being provided and you know how to administer it correctly.