Medications are crucial for many people who need them to treat, manage, or cure illnesses or symptoms, but medications can also be harmful. Errors made in how they are prescribed or administered can cause a great deal of harm to patients, including side effects, worsening health conditions, or even death.
Not all mistakes made with medication are found to be negligent, but if you were the victim of a medication error you may have a malpractice case. You need to prove several things, such as that the mistake caused you harm and significant damages. A malpractice lawyer has the experience and knowledge to help you figure out if you have a case and to help you win that case for justice and compensation.
What is Medication Malpractice?
Medication malpractice is any proven negligent action or inaction from a medical professional related to medications. An error in medication is not always considered negligent or malpractice. Several factors have to be proven in order to win a malpractice case. Proving that a mistake with medications is malpractice may be straightforward, but often it is complicated. There could be circumstances out of the control of the doctor, such as the patient not providing all information about allergies or current medications. In other cases, it may be someone else, not the doctor who is responsible for an error, such as a pharmacy tech or a nurse.
Types of Medication Errors
Medications can be a big help and even cure people of their illnesses. But, when something goes wrong with medications the consequences can be devastating, causing significant damage to the body, requiring additional treatments or surgery, and even leading to death. There are many ways that someone, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others, can make mistakes with prescribed drugs:
- A patient may be prescribed the wrong medication.
- The wrong dose may be prescribed of the right medication.
- The instructions that come with the medication may be wrong.
- The medication is prescribed for an incorrect length of time.
- A doctor prescribes a medication that causes an allergic reaction in the patient.
- A medication is prescribed that interacts with another medication the patient is taking.
- The doctor prescribes a medication that includes warnings from the manufacturer but fails to relay these to the patient.
- A medication is given that causes harm because of a patient’s other health conditions.
- A medication is prescribed that doesn’t work and that causes the patient’s condition to get worse.
When a Medication Error is Malpractice
Proving that a mistake made with medication is not always simple. This type of malpractice can get complicated because of various factors, such as what information the doctor has about the patient and who actually made the mistake with the medication. To prove medication malpractice, a legal team must show that there was a duty to care for the patient by the person being accused of negligence, that the duty was breached, that it caused harm, and that the patient suffered significant damages as a result.
Establishing medical malpractice with medication errors, it is important first to establish the accepted standard of care, what a similar doctor would have done in the same situation. If the doctor in question did not provide all reasonable aspects of that standard of care, the case may be proven to be malpractice. Proving this requires the input of medical experts in one or more areas of medicine.
Opioid Painkillers and Malpractice
Opioids represent a special case of medication malpractice. These drugs are supposed to be prescribed to patients who struggle with moderate to severe pain and chronic pain that cannot be managed with other painkillers. The problems with prescribing opioids are that they are highly addictive and that they can too easily cause a fatal overdose if too much is taken at once.
When a patient dies from an overdose of a prescription drug there is always a possibility that it could be considered malpractice, but with opioids the situation is more complicated. Pain is subjective and knowing when and how to prescribe these risky drugs to help patients is a major challenge for many physicians. It is a tricky balance to decide if the doctor was negligent or was simply trying to provide the highest standard of care.
With the large rise in overdoses caused by opioids, doctors who prescribe them are facing more and more malpractice cases, whether they are settled in favor of the patient or not. Opioids are now cited most often in medication malpractice cases. Some of the opioids most that are involved in these cases include methadone, oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl. The most common allegations patients make are improper management of medications, wrong medication, and wrong dosage prescribed or given.
Consequences of Medication Malpractice
For some patients a mistake made with medications can be minor and have few if any consequences. For others the results are devastating and may cause a range of issues, from additional side effects to death in the most extreme cases. Not getting the right medication can cause unnecessary side effects but can also cause an untreated condition to get worse. The wrong dose can have the same effect. Interactions between medications can cause serious health problems, as can using a medication to which the patient is allergic.
The kind of damages that may result from these types of errors could include additional side effects, organ damage, poisoning, a worsening condition, worsening symptoms, pain and suffering both physically and mentally, disability that may be temporary or permanent, inability to work and earn an income, and even damage to intimate relationships. The worst possible outcome is that a medication error causes a patient to die.
Examples of Medication Malpractice Cases
There are unfortunately many examples of patients who were harmed by medication errors and who filed malpractice suits as a result. One of these led to negligence being proven against a pharmacist. A woman had been taking methadone regularly, but at one point the pharmacist accidentally doubled the dose. The woman suffered an overdose and died a few days later. The family received a settlement of $325,000.
In another case a young woman suffered significant harm after her doctor failed to administer medication in a timely fashion. The woman was in the hospital for inflammation of the blood vessels. A doctor gave her steroids but failed to prescribe an immunosuppressant that would prevent damage. Without the drug the woman suffered irreversible damage that resulted in amputation of her fingers and toes. She won a $15.9 million jury verdict.
Medical malpractice can be very serious, but when medications are involved the consequences have the potential to be especially severe, even resulting in death. Missed medications, incorrect medications or dosages, and over-prescribing of opioids are too common and cause a lot of harm to patients. If you or a loved one was a victim of a medication error and suffered significantly as a result, you may have a valid case for medical malpractice. Let a lawyer with experience in malpractice help you as you file your suit and seek justice for the damaging mistake.
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