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When Medicine Does More Harm Than Good

It’s been estimated that approximately 1.3 million people are injured annually in the United States following “medication errors,” according to an article on

A Food and Drug Administration study evaluated reports of fatal medication errors from 1993 to 1998 and found that:

  • The most common error concerned administration of an improper dose of medication, accounting for 41% of fatal medication errors,
  • Giving the wrong drug and using the wrong route of administration each accounted for 16% of the errors, and
  • Nearly half of the fatal medication errors occurred in people over the age of 60. They may be at the greatest risk for medication errors because they often take multiple prescription medications.

Poor communication can result in medication errors

Major problems with medications can happen after a patient is discharged, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It discusses a study of 851 patients hospitalized due to heart disease. Half met with a pharmacist on admission and at discharge to discuss their medications and their proper usage. Even despite this extra help, half of these patients had one or more medication errors at home during the first month (23% were serious, 2% were life-threatening). The study authors state many of the errors were preventable and the number of errors were about the same whether the pharmacist saw the patient or not.

What causes these problems? Patients may not take the time to understand the medications and their instructions, but health care providers also share the blame, according to one of the study authors, Dr. Jeffrey Schnipper,

  • patients are sent home with medication regimens that aren’t integrated with medications they were taking before they arrived;
  • medication instructions may not be clearly written;
  • inconsistent communication between the hospital staff and the patient’s primary care team may lead to dangerous drug interactions; and
  • physicians don’t check on a patient’s recovery often enough.

Patients can take steps to stay out of trouble

To help avoid medication errors, the Mayo Clinic suggests patients fully understand what medications they’re taking; when, how much and how often to take the medication; any limitations on food, drink or activities due to the medication and any side effects. Patients also need to tell their treating physicians

  • all the medications they’re taking, including over-the-counter products and supplements;
  • any medications that they’re allergic to or that have caused problems in the past;
  • any current chronic or serious health problems; and
  • if the patient is pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

Modern pharmaceuticals are capable of extending life and improving the quality of life, but only if the right medicine is given for the right condition, in the right dosage in the right way. That doesn’t always happen and some patients can be severely injured, or killed, as a result.

Contact Our Office

We help clients facing medical malpractice issues, including medication errors. If you or a loved one have been harmed because of a medication error, contact our office online or call us at (302) 777-1000. There is no charge for your first visit.