Medication Errors

Medication errors injure more than 1.5 million people each year and result in the death of at least one person every day in the United States.

According to the latest study by the Institute of Medicine, medication errors are among the most common in the health care system, occurring in many ways and in all settings, primarily at hospitals, outpatient clinics and long-term care settings.

All too frequently, patients are given the wrong drugs or the wrong doses. And the problem lies at various phases of the medication chain in the prescribing, packaging, labeling, dispensing, administering and monitoring of drugs. In every case, the victim is the same the patient.
If you or a loved one suffered a serious injury or death as a result of medication error, you may want to contact a medication error attorney.
There are many reasons for medication mistakes, including poor communication and ambiguities in product names, directions, medical abbreviations and even the writing of prescriptions, notes The U.S. Food and Drug Administrations Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER).

Some of the common types of medication errors noted by the American Hospital Association are the following:

  • Incomplete patient information, such as not knowing about patients' allergies, other medicines they are taking, previous diagnoses, and test results.
  • Miscommunication of drug orders. This can involve poor handwriting, confusion between drugs with similar names, misplacement of zeroes or decimal points, confusion of metric and other dosing units, and inappropriate abbreviations.
  • Lack of appropriate labeling when drugs are prepared and repackaged into smaller units.
  • Distraction of medical professionals who dispense or prescribe drugs.

Labeling and packaging issues were cited in 33 percent of all errors, according to the IOMs study, with some drugs and varying doses dispensed in bottles or vials that look alike. One example cited in recent news reports was the similarity between packaging for insulin and heparin, a blood thinner.

One-fourth of medication errors were attributed to confusion over similar drug names. Also, the IOM noted growing unease about the dispensing of free samples.

A number of organizations have recommended systematic changes to reduce the risk of medication errors, such as simplification of printed drug information, much of which is written at a college reading level and is difficult for many people to understand.

The IOM suggested that patients ask questions when they are prescribed or given drugs, such as how to take the medications and what they should do in the event of side effects. It also suggested that patients have their doctors give them a printed record of all the drugs they have been prescribed, with the list also including any drug or food allergies they have. The list can be shown to other doctors, such as various specialists.


  • Read the FDA report
  • A former hospital pharmacist was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 2-year-old girl killed by a lethal injection of a salt solution during a cancer treatment. He was the supervising pharmacist when a pharmacy technician prepared a chemotherapy solution for that was 23 percent salt instead of the proper solution of less than 1 percent. (Full story)
  • A Pittsburgh TV news investigation uncovers medical mistakes made in western Pennsylvania hospitals. A consultant says there are arguably 3 million medication errors in southwestern PA every year. Hospital inspection reports also show a litany of other kinds of errors, including unclean surgical instruments and failure to notify patients of mistakes.
  • Three medical malpractice lawsuits settled at once by Montana doctor accused of negligence in treating patients with chronic pain. The physician was accused of prescribing potentially lethal doses of pain medication to two patients and improperly treat a third who developed an infection.
  • Some experts say there's an easy way for pharmacists to help reduce the number of medication errors -- talk to customers. (Full story)