Prescription Errors

Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Medication errors have gained prominence in recent years, as a consensus has formed among health organizations that these are primarily the result of the failure of an overwhelmed and out-of-date healthcare system. When prescription medications kill about 7,000 Americans every year, scrutiny of these errors is bound to increase. When the federal government and medical groups become concerned that billions of dollars are wasted because of these errors, methods of revamping the prescribing system are developed.

Common Sources of Errors

As a prescription is written and flows through the system to be dispensed to a patient, there are, unfortunately, many chances for error to occur. Although many other fields from manufacturing to aviation have automated elements, computerized inventories, and digital management systems, the medical field does not. The technology is available, and will become more advanced as demand grows, but few physicians and medical groups take advantage of it.

Beginning with handwritten prescriptions, lettering can be illegible, dosages can be misread, and the very names of medications can be confused. Names of drugs can look alike and/or sound alike. Dosages can be miscalculated or carelessly written. Instructions can be ambiguous or incomplete.

As for administering the medication, pills or capsules can look alike and be taken mistakenly by a patient. The patient may not take the medication according to the directions, may skip a dose and double up on the next one, or may stop taking the medication too soon. At the dispensing end, poor inventory controls, packaging, and labeling can lead to serious errors. Pills can be miscounted, or the right medication can be put into the wrong container. Finally, pharmacy workers can be overworked, distracted, or interrupted, all of which makes them prone to mistakes.

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