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Why Do Medication Errors Occur in Nursing Homes?

Medication errors—any mistake in the prescribing, dispensing, or administering of a drug—are now the third-leading cause of death in the United States, having surpassed Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Medication errors are often the result of ineffective prescribing, sloppy handwriting, misleading packaging, incorrect dispensing, and issues with manufacturing. These kinds of mistakes can happen in any healthcare setting, from hospitals and surgery centers to medical offices and pharmacies.

Medication errors are especially prevalent in nursing homes. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society stated that 16 to 27 percent of all nursing home residents are victims of medication errors. These types of mistakes can have severe or even fatal consequences, especially for older and more vulnerable residents.

Causes of Medication Mistakes in Long-Term Care Facilities

If your loved one is in a nursing home, it’s important to know about the prevalence of medication errors. They’re more common than many people realize and understanding why they happen can help prevent future mistakes. Here are common causes of medication errors:

  • Knowledge-based errors: A staff member may not have enough information about the medication they’re giving a resident—perhaps they’re unaware of a patient’s medical history, allergies, diet, or other prescriptions. Communication problems with senior residents are fairly common.
  • Rule-based errors: These types of mistakes occur when an employee is improperly trained, fails to follow protocol, is fatigued, or is unclear on the prescription instructions. Mistakes often occur if there are staffing shortages, underpaid staff workers, a lack of experience among caregivers, and poor supervision and accountability.
  • Action-based errors: Action-based errors are the most common type of medication mistake and stem from a member of the staff performing an action that was not what was intended, such as a slip of the pen when prescribing. Another example is putting the wrong types of pills in the wrong bottle.
  • Memory-based errors: If a nurse administers a medication twice without realizing it, serious consequences could ensue. Because nursing home caregivers are often overworked and fatigued, memory-based errors are fairly common. Another example is forgetting about a patient’s allergies.

Medication errors can stem from slicing or cutting a pill that shouldn’t be split, providing inadequate liquids with medications, giving expired medication, using an incorrect administration technique, skipping a dose of medication, and giving the medication at the wrong time.

Tips for Preventing Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

Medication errors are a serious public health problem and a leading cause of death in the United States. In general, experts suggest that maintaining a culture among hospital and nursing home staff that works toward recognizing safety challenges and problem solving is part of the solution. Likewise, improving the issues surrounding nursing homes that are understaffed, overworked, and fatigued would be a step in the right direction. Here are a few other common corrections that are necessary to avoid medication error in long-term care facilities:

  • Improving proficiency in drug calculations: Having sound basic mathematical skills and performing accurate drug calculations can significantly minimize medication errors.
  • Understanding patient information: It’s important for nurses and aides to verify the patient’s name, age, birth date, weight, allergies, diagnosis, current lab results, and vital signs.
  • Educating patients: Though it’s the prescribing doctor or caregiver’s job to avoid making medication errors, it’s still important for patients to understand the names of their medications, what they look like, what the dosage is, the potential reactions, and what they’re being used to treat.
  • Keeping adequate communication: Communication barriers between physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and patients should be eliminated.
  • Staff education and competency: The nursing home staff should be aware of and have access to accurate and current drug information. Medication-related policies, procedures, and protocols should be regularly reviewed and updated.

If your loved one has suffered injuries because of a medication error or any other form of abuse or neglect, it’s important that you get in contact with an expert attorney.

Contact the Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Dalli & Marino

If you or a loved one is facing injury or illness from a medication error and you think someone else may be at fault, contact the medical malpractice attorneys at Dalli & Marino, LLP. Our legal team has represented injured people in New York City, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau County, Suffolk County, and Westchester since 1996. We’re dedicated to providing our clients with the highest level of personal service and legal representation to obtain the compensation they deserve.

Our team of highly skilled trial attorneys approach each case on an individual basis and serve to help you or your loved one recover the money you need to compensate for your injury or illness. Give us a call at (888) 465-8790 or complete our contact form today.