Every now and then someone will ask why I decided to focus my legal career on medical malpractice. My answer is always the same—there are way too many medical errors and by bringing accountability the legal system can help reduce them.
Medical mistakes are so common, in fact, that doctors have come up with a special name for them, iatrogenic injuries, so they don’t have to say the word “error” or “mistake” to patients or in medical records.
Take some of the findings of a recent study published in the British Medical Journal. In developed countries, the health burden of medical malpractice is similar to that of chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis and cervical cancer. In terms of cost, an astounding 10-15% of all healthcare expenditures are directly related to additional care required because of medical malpractice—that works out to about 2.4 million extra hospital days and $9.3 billion in expenses that would be avoided if the medical errors hadn’t occurred.
Drug or medication errors were at the very top of the list in the study. In my experience as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, there are several types of drug-related mistakes that I frequently encounter:
• The prescribing provider (doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant) prescribes a new drug that shouldn’t be used in combination with other drugs that the patient is currently taking.
This can happen when there’s not an accurate, current medication list in the medical record. Sometimes this is filled out when the patient first sees a new doctor, but is glossed over on future visits. You can improve your safety as a patient by keeping a list of all prescription and over-the-counter drugs that you take and showing it to your doctor or nurse at each appointment.
• The doctor or provider writing the prescription orders the wrong dosage of a drug.
• The doctor or provider writing the prescription orders the wrong drug.
• The pharmacy dispenses and fills the prescription with the wrong drug or dosage.
You can lower the odds that you’ll be the victim of this type of medical mistake by asking questions and having conversations with your doctor and pharmacist.
Ask your physician why she is prescribing the drug and what it’s for.
Even though most doctors electronically transmit prescriptions to your pharmacy, ask for a printed copy of the prescription or the office note that lists the medication that was ordered. When you go to pick up your prescription, compare your print-out to the prescription drug that you’re given.
Speaking of pharmacies, always take advantage of the free counseling service with the pharmacist. Tell the pharmacist what you understand the drug was ordered for, and ask if it will interfere with any of your other medications. Inquire about any side effects that you should look out for and what you should do it you have them.
I’ve handled several cases where a serious injury or death could’ve been avoided if patients had known to follow these steps and ask questions. With the direction healthcare is going in the United States, I believe that informed, inquisitive patients will be the one least likely to be harmed by preventable medical errors.
In the event that a medical error, mistake, or malpractice seriously injures you or someone you care for, then contact a top-rated, experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney for help in evaluating your potential claim.