A medication error is any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or harm to a patient. Since 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received more than 95,000 reports of medication errors. FDA reviews reports that come to MedWatch, the agency's adverse event reporting program. Medication errors can be caused by a physician prescribing the wrong medication or a pharmacist filing your prescription with the wrong medicine. Errors also may occur based simply on poor penmanship. They can occur while you are in a hospital or while at home.

Medications are an important component of health care, but each year their misuse results in over a million adverse drug events that lead to office and emergency room visits as well as hospitalizations and, in some cases, serious injury and death.

We can be thankful that these issues continue to be addressed by Government Agencies, such as the Federal Drug Administration but also by organizations such as The National Institute for Medicine. Recognizing that medication errors are all too common the following reports have been published by the Institute for Medicine addressing drug safety and medication errors.

  1. “Standardizing Medication Labels: Confusing Patients Less, Workshop Summary” published on April 22, 2008.
  2. “The Future of Drug Safety: Promoting and Protecting the Health of the Public” published on September 22, 2006.
  3. “Adverse Drug Event Reporting: The Roles of Consumers and Health Care Professionals. Workshop Summary” published on April 12, 2007.
  4. “Emerging Safety Science. Workshop Summary” published on April 9, 2008.

As lawyers we often deal with the consequences of a medication error. When harmful effects cause serious injury and damage you or your family may find that the only alternative to correct the harm done to you and your family is a medical malpractice action. The most common types of medication errors involve administering an improper dose, or giving the wrong drug, or using the wrong route of administration.

Here are some useful points to consider if you are prescribed medication by your doctor:

  1. Know that errors can occur.
  2. Find out what drug you're taking and what it's for.
  3. Find out how to take the drug and make sure you understand the directions.
  4. Keep a list of all medications, including OTC drugs, as well as dietary supplements, medicinal herbs, and other substances you take for health reasons, and report it to your health care providers.