Medical Legal Issues Involving Prescription Errors
Errors in prescribing and dispensing medications can be the basis of a medical malpractice lawsuit. Failure to prescribe the correct medication is one of the principal causes of harm. A physician might misdiagnose a patient’s condition and consequently order the wrong drug, which will delay proper treatment and exacerbate the patient’s illness. Alternatively, a physician might accurately diagnose an illness and recommend an appropriate course of treatment, but a pharmacist might have difficulty deciphering a doctor’s illegible handwriting on a prescription and fill the drug incorrectly. He might misinterpret abbreviations used in a medical note or confuse two medications that sound alike but cannot be used interchangeably to treat the patient.
A physician might prescribe the wrong medication if he fails to take a thorough and accurate medical history when evaluating the patient. For example, failure to properly note the patient’s allergies could lead a doctor to prescribe a drug that the patient cannot tolerate, producing a severe allergic reaction. When determining which medication to prescribe, physicians should be aware of the drugs the patient is already taking and should also take into consideration the patient’s chronic health disorders, which will determine how the patient responds to medication. The prescriber should be aware if a female patient is pregnant or will become pregnant in the near future to avoid endangering the fetus.
When prescribing a particular medication, physicians should bear in mind possible interactions between drugs to ensure that taking one medication does not interfere with the metabolism of another drug by the patient’s liver or kidney. Duplication occurs when a physician mistakenly prescribes multiple medications that contain the same drug, which increases the risk of overdosing on a particular substance. For example, duplication can occur if a physician prescribes a medication for pain management that contains acetaminophen while permitting the patient to continue taking Tylenol regularly. The elevated levels of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, can cause liver dysfunction. In a similar manner, a patient who simultaneously takes Wellbutrin to alleviate symptoms of depression and Zyban to cease smoking might surpass safe levels of the drug bupropion, which is found in both medications.
Other types of prescription errors include mistakes in dosage when a physician fails to recommend the proper quantity of a medication and failure to warn a patient of the possible side effects of a particular drug. In a hospital setting, patients can run the risk of receiving someone else’s medications by mistake.
The law firm of O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble has significant experience handling medical malpractice cases involving prescription errors. If you or a loved one followed a doctor or pharmacist’s orders and suffered from taking incorrect medication, excessive quantities of a medication or from the dangerous interaction of drugs and their harmful side effects, you may be entitled to obtain a just settlement.