Nearly half of Americans take prescription medications during any given month. Twenty percent will take three or more prescription medications a month. While the vast majority of medications are prescribed properly, medication errors can and do occur. Some of these prescription errors cause temporary side effects. Some cause serious personal injury. The most serious medication errors cause 7,000 deaths a year. Unfortunately, medication errors are a serious problem that does not appear to be subsiding.
According to a recent study, a startlingly five percent of all prescriptions by general practice or primary care doctors contain at least one error. As a medical malpractice lawyer that has handled medication error cases, I knew the rate of medication errors was high but I never imagined it was five percent.
According to a study conducted by the General Medical Counsel, about 1 in 20 prescriptions by general practice physicians in the UK contain an error. The US equivalent to a general practice doctor is a primary care doctor. The study also sought to determine the types of prescription errors made doctors. The study concluded that most medication errors fall into one of three categories: 1) incomplete information on the prescription; 2) dose/strength errors; and 3) timing of dosage errors. The most common error was incomplete information on the prescription followed by dose/strength errors.
Fortunately, most medication errors by doctors involve temporary injuries. However, the study found that 1 in 550 prescription mistakes involved "serious errors." The study did not break down which of these errors resulted in serious injury versus wrongful death.
The study advisors offered recommendations to GP / PCP doctors on reducing medication errors. They recommended doctors receive further training on how to safely prescribe medication, which should include recognizing the common pitfalls associated with prescription errors. They also recommended that doctors implement a computerized system for prescribing medications. On the later, the study determined that many of the medication errors found could have been avoided if there was a proper computer system in place designed to ensure that, among things, the dosage prescribed is correct. All of these measures should not only reduce medication errors, they should also reduce the number of medical malpractice cases.
Medical News Today, Prescribing Pitfalls, Doctors Told To Be Careful, UK, May 3, 2012.
CDC, Therapeutic Drug Use, Last Updated May16, 2012