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Three preventable medication errors

Pennsylvania residents who take prescribed medications are probably aware of the various hazards that they face; doctors can, after all, commit medication errors. The following are three entirely preventable medication errors, all of which run the risk of falling off the radar until some adverse event brings attention to them.

The first relates to the management of patient and drug information. Most hospitals and doctors' offices use electronic health records, and everyone from pharmacists to the nurses entering the orders can make errors in filling these out. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association estimates that 1 in 37 hospitalized patients receives the wrong prescription order. These errors could be avoided by requiring verification of a patient's identity or placing the patient's photo on the record.

Another preventable error is unnecessary dilution of IV push medications, including opioids, antipsychotic medications and insulin. While it is meant to decrease patient discomfort and slow down administration of the drug, diluting a syringe that has been pre-filled according to a specific patient dosage can lead to contamination and infection.

Errors also arise when medication orders appear differently from the computer screen to the electronic medication administration record. Doctors can, for instance, mistake for the patient dosage what is actually the concentration of a liquid medication.

If it becomes clear that a medication error was committed out of negligence, then the victim may have the grounds for a medical malpractice claim. It must be proven that there was a doctor-patient relationship, that the patient followed all the doctor's instructions and that the doctor failed to live up to an objective standard of care. This is where a lawyer might come in and help strengthen the case. If a settlement cannot be agreed upon, the lawyer may prepare the case for court.

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