Medication errors are a common occurrence in nursing homes and other skilled nursing facilities. A 2014 study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that one in three nursing patients suffers from medication errors, and that at least 59 percent of these errors were preventable. More than half of all errors required the resident to be admitted to the hospital, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in medical costs.
Other studies have produced similar results. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Pharmacology called medication errors in nursing homes a “common occurrence,” while a third study reported that one out of every five doses of medication provided by nursing home staff involves a mistake.
Why Are There So Many Medication Errors?
As you would expect, nursing home caregivers are trained to avoid medication errors. Administering medications is a central aspect of their job, and it is one with potentially fatal consequences if they get it wrong. As a result, prior to administering medications, nursing home staff members should always:
- Make sure they have the right patient.
- Make sure they have the right medication.
- Make sure they are administering the proper dosage.
- Make sure they have the right form of medication (e.g., pill versus liquid).
- Make sure they are administering the medication at the correct time to avoid interactions and side effects.
So, why do so many nursing home residents suffer from medication errors? For one, caregivers make mistakes. Whether due to lack of training or a failure to follow proper protocol, nurses and other staff members regularly overlook important steps and rush through processes, putting residents at risk.
Secondly, an alarming number of medication errors are intentional. Nursing home staff members have been known to improperly use medications to sedate residents and facilitate other forms of abuse.
Common Medication Errors in Nursing Homes
In performing the basic tasks outlined above, nursing home staff members also need to be sure to follow the resident’s doctor and the drug manufacturer recommendations. At Malman Law, we regularly see tragic cases involving medication errors such as:
- Failing to provide proper hydration. Medications often need to be taken with liquid, and dehydration can lead to dangerous risks while residents are under the effects of certain medications.
- Failing to provide food with medications. Similarly, many medications need to be taken with food in order to avoid side effects. Conversely, some medications should be taken on an empty stomach.
- Splitting medications that should not be split. Some drugs come with specific instructions that they should not be crushed or sliced.
- Failing to properly mix medications. Insulin and other medications need to be mixed prior to administration. When medications are not properly mixed, residents can end up receiving too little or too much of the active ingredients.
- Failing to properly use metered dose inhalers (MDIs). MDIs need to be shaken, and nursing home staff members need to ensure sufficient wait periods between puffs to avoid side effects and dosage errors.
- Improperly administering eye drops. Eye drop medications need to make contact with the eye, and typically need to stay in place for at least a few minutes. Nursing home staff members need to make sure that the medication is fully absorbed in order to avoid an underdose.
- Losing track of medications. Staff members who use pill sorters or who spill pill bottles may lose track of medications and end up administering untimely or insufficient doses.
Doctor and Pharmacist Medication Errors
Sometimes, medication errors occur before the medications make their way into a nursing home. In these cases, injured patients and their families may have grounds to file a medical malpractice claim against the prescribing physician or the pharmacist who supplied the dangerous drug. Some of these types of medication errors include:
- Prescription errors. A physician may either prescribe the wrong medication or an inappropriate dosage.
- Not asking about allergies. If a physician or pharmacist doesn’t ask about a patient’s allergies, this can lead to prescription of a potentially harmful drug.
- Drug interaction errors. Physicians also need to ask about patients’ current medications, and avoid prescribing new medications that could cause dangerous drug interactions.
- Mislabeling medications. Mislabeled medicine bottles can lead to dangerous consequences.
Contact Malman Law about Your Illinois Medication Error Claim
With offices in downtown Chicago, Malman Law provides experienced legal representation for victims of medication errors in nursing homes throughout Illinois. Our attorneys have recovered millions of dollars in compensation for elderly nursing home residents and their families. For more information about what to do if you suspect a medication error in a nursing home, please call us at (888) 625-6265 or contact us online for a free consultation.