legal resources necessary to hold negligent facilities accountable.
Medication Errors in Nursing Homes
Medication errors significantly threaten patient safety, especially among vulnerable nursing home residents. Receiving the wrong drug or dose can cause a patient to suffer an injury, illness, or even fatal complications. At the very least, it can lead to no relief from the patient's condition.
Medication is a crucial element of treatment, and there is no room for error. Unfortunately, many nursing homes fail to prevent medication errors, putting residents' health and lives at risk.
Did you or a loved one suffer an injury or illness due to a medication error in a nursing home? If so, the experienced attorneys at Nursing Home Law Center, LLC, can help you hold liable parties responsible for their negligence. We help victims of medication errors seek financial compensation through litigation or out-of-court settlements.
Contact our nursing home abuse attorneys at (800) 926-7565 for a free legal case review.
What is a Medication Error?
According to the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention (NCCMERP), a medication error is "any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the healthcare professional, patient, or consumer.”
These errors can occur in any step of the medication-use system, which are:
- Prescribing a drug
- Entering prescription information into an electronic system
- Preparing a drug
- Dispensing the drug
- Administering medication to a patient
Medication errors can occur in any setting, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, hospices, and nursing homes.
How Often Do Medication Errors Occur?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) receives more than 100,000 reports yearly on suspected medication errors. The reports come from healthcare professionals, drug manufacturers, and consumers through MedWatch, the FDA's safety information and adverse event reporting program.
The Most Common Medication Errors
A medication error can occur in several ways. Here are some of the most common medication errors:
Medication mistakes can occur at the first step of the medication-use process when a doctor prescribes a patient the wrong drug, dose form, or medication administration. A prescription error can happen due to:
- Misdiagnosing a Patient: A physician that fails to diagnose a nursing home patient's condition correctly may prescribe a drug for another condition.
- Confusing One Drug For Another: A medication error can occur when a doctor mixes up two or more drug names and prescribes the wrong medicine to the patient.
- Failing to Indicate Proper Instructions: Aside from the drug name, prescribing physicians must include the dosage form, quantity, frequency, route, concentration, and rate of admission in the prescription.
- Not Considering Potential Drug Interactions: When a patient takes other medications, doctors must consider possible drug-to-drug interactions based on the patient's medical history.
A bulk of medication errors occur during drug preparation and dispensing. Pharmacists may commit drug errors by:
- Misreading the Prescription: A pharmacist may dispense the wrong drug or prepare a compound drug (a combination of two or more medications) incorrectly when they read the doctor's prescription wrong. This type of mistake usually occurs when a doctor's prescription is illegible.
- Confusing One Drug For Another: Sometimes, pharmacists mix up two similar-sounding drug names and dispense the wrong medicine to the patient. Some sound-alike drugs include Valtrex and Valcyte, Sertraline and Cetirizine, and Lamictal and Lamisil. A medication error can also occur in drug compounding when the pharmacist confuses two look-alike drugs.
- Dispensing the Wrong Dosage: A pharmacist may grab the correct drug in the incorrect dosage or dosage form, e.g., dispensing 1000mg instead of 500mg or buccal instead of sublingual medications.
Incorrect Medication Administration
Licensed nurses are responsible for administering drugs to nursing home patients using the correct methods. Medication errors at this stage can occur by:
- Administering Medications Incorrectly: This mistake occurs when a nursing staff member administers the drug incorrectly, such as having residents swallow pills meant to dissolve under the tongue (sublingual medications).
- Giving Residents Medications Too Early or Too Late: Most medications require correct timing with little room for adjustment. Timing errors occur when nurses administer drugs too early or too late relative to the predetermined schedule.
- Preparing a Drug Incorrectly: Drug preparation errors at this stage occur when nurses create an incorrectly formulated drug, such as when a medication is diluted excessively.
- Failing to Conduct Post-Dose Monitoring: Nursing staff must monitor patients after drug administration to watch out for adverse health effects, especially if it is a new medicine for the patient.
- Intentional Nursing Home Abuse: Sometimes, medication errors in nursing homes are intentional. A nursing home staff member may deliberately overdose residents or administer fatigue-causing drugs to keep them “under control.” Unfortunately, this problem is common in many nursing homes but often goes unaddressed.
Common Causes of Nursing Home Medication Errors
Proper medication management is crucial in maintaining high-quality care. Unfortunately, some nursing homes have insufficient protocols, practices, and strategies to prevent medication errors.
Medication errors in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have several contributing factors, such as:
- Understaffing: Nursing facilities with chronic short-staffing issues may experience higher incidences of nursing home neglect or negligence. Employees will likely become overburdened when human resources are stretched too thin, increasing the risk of medication errors.
- Inadequate Training: Nursing facility staff members need regular training on how to prevent medication errors. Each staff member must know their role in preventing these mistakes, especially employees directly responsible for drug administration and preparation.
- Negligent Hiring Practices: Not conducting background checks, hiring inexperienced people, and other slack hiring methods can increase the risk of nursing home abuse, neglect, and negligence. Employees with inadequate education or experience may be more prone to committing medication errors due to a lack of knowledge, both practical and technical.
- Fragmented Care Errors: Poor communication between healthcare professionals can make way for common medication errors, such as dispensing the wrong dose or using an incorrect administration method. These errors usually result from ineffective communication practices and devices that make communication easier between staff members.
- Poor Electronic Systems: Nursing facilities that use paper systems for prescriptions are often more susceptible to clerical mistakes, e.g., listing the wrong drug name in the system. If electronic systems exist but are of poor quality, there is also a significant risk of human error.
- Incomplete Resident Information: A nursing facility must record all medication-related information of patients, including drug allergies, previous diagnoses, and past or current medications. Otherwise, residents may receive drugs they are allergic to or drugs that would likely cause drug-to-drug interactions.
- Poor Pharmacy Organization: Drugs without proper labels, similar-sounding medications placed close to each other, a lack of a bar code scanning system and other pharmacy-related issues can lead to dispensing errors.
Medical professionals do not purposefully cause medication errors, but there is always a risk of human error. However, these mistakes usually occur due to a facility's failure to provide nursing staff members with what they need for proper medication management, including:
- Low-stress environments
- Reasonable schedules
- Open lines of communication
- Efficient systems for communication
- Pharmacy organization resources, e.g., bar code systems
- Training and education
Consequences of Nursing Home Medication Errors to Patient Safety
When a nursing home patient is given the wrong drug or dose, the best-case scenario is that they simply do not experience relief from whatever the drug is supposed to treat.
However, some mistakes can have more severe effects. Serious errors, such as giving a patient antipsychotic drugs for too long (these drugs have a duration limit of 14 days for “as the circumstance arises” orders), can produce significant side effects.
Medication errors in nursing homes can lead to:
Adverse Side Effects
Almost all drugs have the potential to cause side effects. However, if a patient is given the wrong medication or dose, their body's reaction may be more intense.
Mild side effects may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Balance and coordination problems
- Itching and rashes
- Constipation or diarrhea
- General discomfort
Although relatively rare, medication errors can also cause severe side effects, such as:
- Extreme vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
Medication errors also create a risk of allergic reactions. A nursing home resident that is given a drug they are allergic to can experience hives, itching, rashes, wheezing, and facial swelling. In worst cases, however, a drug allergy can lead to anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction.
Increased Risk of Injury
Deviating from medication standards can elevate the risk of injury among nursing home residents. The main reason is that medication errors can lead to side effects that increase the risk of falling, such as drowsiness, lightheadedness, and mental confusion.
Falls are the leading cause of severe injuries and death in nursing homes. Elderly residents are particularly at risk due to their reduced physical conditions and ability to recover.
Medication errors can also increase the risk of elopement among high-risk nursing home residents (e.g., dementia patients). Elopement is when a resident wanders through or leaves the facility without authorization, usually due to confusion, cognitive impairments, or discomfort. It can lead to serious injury, especially if the nursing home resident manages to leave the facility altogether.
Worsening of Existing Medical Conditions
A mild medication error may cause no other adverse effects other than providing no relief from the patient's condition. However, it can be a big problem when this happens to someone with a severe illness, such as a widespread infection.
When a medication error occurs in a person with a severe condition, the lack of pharmaceutical action in the body can worsen that condition (e.g., an infection spreading to other parts of the body) and the development of complications. This problem can increase morbidity and mortality risk further.
Filing a Nursing Home Medication Error Claim
Nursing homes are responsible for ensuring medication safety across all channels. When a medication error occurs and causes harm to a resident, the negligent parties (including the facility) may be held liable for medical malpractice and nursing home abuse.
Proving Medication Errors in Nursing Homes
To file a nursing home abuse or medical malpractice claim, you must prove the following:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to you
- The defendant breached this duty of care
- This breach led to the medication error
- The medication error directly caused your injuries and other losses
Your nursing home abuse lawyer will discuss these elements further during your free case review.
Who is Liable?
Medication errors in nursing homes can result from the negligence of:
- Prescribing doctors
- Nurses or nursing aides
- Other nursing facility staff involved in the medication system
Pharmaceutical companies may also be liable for injuries if the case involves a defective drug.
Regardless of who is at fault for the mistake, nursing homes may be accountable for nursing home medication errors for failing to uphold medication standards.
Nursing home abuse cases involving drug errors must prove that 1) the error occurred due to the negligence of staff members and 2) the error caused harm. The following forms of evidence can help you establish these two elements:
- Medical records
- Test results
- Drug packaging
- The actual medications given to you
- Expert testimony
- Victim's testimony
You may also want to consider seeking professional medical advice to see how you can prove that the error, not other conditions, caused your injuries. You can discuss this further with your lawyer during your free case review.
Financial Compensation for Nursing Home Medication Errors
By filing a personal injury case against a negligent nursing home for a drug error, you could recover financial aid or compensation for the following losses:
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of quality of life
- Wrongful death
Our nursing home abuse attorneys will calculate the estimated value of your settlement during your free case review.
How a Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse Lawyer Can Help
Drug errors in nursing homes are often challenging to prove without a nursing home abuse lawyer. Although you may have a paper trail showing you were given the wrong medication, it usually takes a lot of evidence and preparation to establish the nursing home's negligence.
You shouldn't have to deal with a complicated case alone. A nursing home abuse lawyer can help you:
- Investigate how and why the error occurred
- Pinpoint the nursing facility employees at fault
- Determine the extent of your losses
- Gather substantial evidence to support your claim
- File your claim to the nursing home's insurance company
- Negotiate settlement values
- File a nursing home abuse lawsuit in civil court, if necessary
Our elder abuse attorneys can also help you seek professional medical advice to address the effects of the drug error. Find out more during your free case review.
Schedule a Free Legal Case Review with a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Today
Proper prescribing, dispensing, and administering residents' medications is a bare minimum obligation for a nursing home. Unfortunately, negligence can sometimes occur, putting residents at risk of delayed treatment, worsening illnesses, or fatal complications.
Did you or a loved one experience a medication error in a nursing home? Did this error lead to significant injuries or losses?
The nursing home abuse attorneys at Nursing Home Law Center, LLC, can help you hold the nursing facility accountable for its negligence. We will ensure you receive appropriate financial aid to address the harm you've suffered.
Contact us at (800) 926-7565 for a free legal case review. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team will remain private under an attorney-client relationship.
Our experienced lawyers handle all accepted nursing home abuse cases on a contingency fee basis. This arrangement means you don't have to pay for our legal services unless we win your case.