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What happens when a medication error results in serious injury?

Medication errors are not an uncommon occurrence. Unfortunately, these often-avoidable errors can result in serious and sometimes fatal injuries. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices recently released its list of top preventable medication errors from 2020. According to this organization, known for its work with healthcare systems and practitioners to encourage patient safety, the following were the most common medication related mistakes from last year:

  • Opioids. The top preventable medication error of 2020 involved the prescription of extended-release opioid medications to patients who were opioid-naïve. Opioid naïve patients are those who are not taking opioids on a regular basis. Although under dosing can result in poor management of patient pain, overdosing can and did result in serious harm in 2020.
  • Failure to use smart infusion pumps. These pumps can help to reduce the risk of errors in perioperative settings. Lack of use led to another top unnecessary medication error last year.
  • COVID-19 errors. Medical professionals also reported errors involving COVID-19 vaccines. COVID-19 related errors were also reported involving unnecessary hazards due to medical professionals leaving infusion pumps outside of COVID-19 rooms.
  • Poor communication. The group also reported mistakes connected to use of error-prone abbreviations or dose designations.

These errors can lead to serious patient injury or death. Patients who suffer such injuries or those who lose a loved one as a result of these mistakes may have options to hold those responsible for the error accountable for their wrongdoing. Depending on the details of the incident, legal remedies may be available.

Why should a patient consider legal action if injured by a medication error?

The National Institute of Health notes that legal accountability in these situations can serve a number of purposes. Two primary examples include compensation and accountability. The injured patient can receive compensation to help cover the expenses resulting from the accident. This can include funds to cover additional medical bills to treat illness or injury that result from the mistake as well as lost wages. In some cases, the error may lead to a need to remodel a home, get a special mode of transportation, or hire nursing staff. Legal remedies can help cover these expenses as well.

A civil lawsuit can also help to better ensure the healthcare professional who was responsible for the mistake is officially held accountable for their wrongdoing, potentially reducing the risk the same individual will injure another patient in the future. This lawsuit can also deter other medical professionals from making the same mistake.

How does a patient move forward with a claim?

Patients who believe they are the victim of a medication error can move forward with a lawsuit. The patient will generally need to establish the treating healthcare provider responsible for the error failed to meet a standard of care medical professionals expect within their profession. The standard of care often hinges on whether or not the medical professional’s actions were reasonable. The court may ask whether or not another, similar medical professional in that situation would make the same mistake or not to help determine if this individual is liable for the injury.