Patients trust medical professionals to provide accurate information and treatment, including administering the proper medication. Thousands of prescription medications are filled daily, and unfortunately, medication errors are one of the leading causes of patient harm. Prescription errors result in 28,000 deaths every year in Canada. This number is likely higher because some cases go undocumented.
Nova Scotia is one of the first provinces to implement a Pharmacy Incident Reporting system showing that in a seven-year period, over 98,000 prescription mistakes were made in pharmacies across the entire province. These errors can lead to serious or even fatal injuries.
If you or someone you know has suffered from an incorrect drug or dosage caused by a prescription error, you might be entitled to seek compensation through a medical malpractice claim.
What is a Medication Error?
A medication error is defined as a preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate prescription medication use or patient harm. These mistakes can happen at various steps throughout the manufacturing and distribution process, starting with the moment a doctor prescribes medication to when it is handed to the patient.
Manufacturing errors can occur when a medication is formulated or packaged incorrectly. These can include contaminants, misleading labels, and improper marketing.
Prescribing errors occur when a healthcare provider decides which medication to prescribe a patient. This could involve over prescribing, under prescribing, incorrect medications, or simply illegible handwritten prescriptions.
Dispending errors occur when pharmacists fill the prescription incorrectly, provide the wrong label, or distribute the wrong dosage.
Administration errors can be made by the healthcare professionals or the patient themselves by taking medication that is the wrong strength, frequency, or duration.
Detecting these mistakes at any stage in the treatment process is essential. Although most medication errors are preventable, they still happen and can put patients at risk.
What is Pharmaceutical Negligence?
Pharmaceutical negligence occurs when a person experiences an adverse reaction, injury, or even death due to a medication error. In general, negligence refers to harm caused by avoidable mistakes which are usually unintentional. For example, if a dosage decimal point is missed or misplaced, the patient could be administered too much or too little medication.
Negligence can be alleged against anyone in the distribution chain of a pharmaceutical product. This includes doctors, pharmacists, nurses, drug manufacturers, and medical institutions. Depending on the circumstances, multiple parties can be held legally responsible for injuries and damages caused by incorrect or unnecessary medications.
Types of Prescription Errors
Millions of patients rely on pharmaceutical medications to treat and manage health conditions. Every healthcare practitioner has a duty to uphold a high standard of care in creating, prescribing, and administering medications. Unfortunately, negligent providers involved in patient care can lead to prescription errors. Many factors can cause or contribute to medication errors. These can be related to the pharmaceutical product or the healthcare practice, procedures, and systems.
- Prescribing the wrong medication or dosage
- A drug allergy may go unnoticed
- Not considering interactions with current medications
- Lack of information about long-term or serious side effects
- Prescribing unnecessary medications due to a misdiagnosis
- Misunderstanding the medication or dosage prescribed by the doctor
- Dispensing the incorrect medication or wrong dosage
- Not labelling the medication correctly
- Not warning patients of adverse reactions and serious side effects
- Providing incorrect advice about medication usage
Healthcare Professional Errors
- Incorrect advice regarding the timing, frequency, or duration of taking medication
- Improperly administering medication (e.g., oral versus intravenous)
- Dispensing medication outside the scheduled time
- Incorrectly preparing medication (e.g., too much or too little diluting solution)
- Equipment required to provide medication may malfunction or break
- Mislabeling the drug identification number (DIN), lot number, expiration date, or batch number
- Failure to comply with regulations (e.g., labelling guidelines)
- Packaging inconsistencies
In addition to prescription errors, there are times when drugs are introduced to the market without having been adequately tested beforehand. These drugs can result in negative reactions, illness, injury, and possibly death. A list of commonly prescribed dangerous drugs are:
- Proton Pump Inhibitors
- Yasmin / Yaz
Causes of Medication Errors
Medication errors are largely preventable and are usually caused by the reckless behaviour of a healthcare professional, including poor communication (written or oral), system errors, staffing issues, workload, and general carelessness. Medication errors are typically a very simple mistake. Still, they are serious and can prevent a patient from receiving the medication and care they need, resulting in devastating and sometimes fatal consequences.
More common causes of medication errors include:
- Illegible handwritten prescriptions
- Lack of information regarding allergies
- Lack of knowledge regarding other medications
- Incorrect drug prescribed
- Incorrect dosage prescribed
- Medication names can look alike, which can be interpreted incorrectly when being dispensed
- Prescription not received by patient or pharmacy
- Drug samples can lack information regarding adverse reactions and side effects
- Doctor or pharmacist may not clearly communicate the warning signs for adverse reactions that the patient should be aware of
- Equipment failures or malfunctions
- Incorrect diagnosis of medical condition
- Failure to take adequate patient history
- Relying on automated computer systems
Prescription Drug Error Injuries
The impact of prescription drug errors can be life changing. Patients who take the wrong medication can suffer from delayed or impeded recovery, a higher chance of adverse reactions, and the worsening or development of other health conditions. In serious cases, prescription errors can cause wrongful patient death.
Common prescription drug error injuries include:
- Brain injury
- Blood clots
- Depression & increased risk of suicide
- Heart attack
- Organ damage/failure
- Respiratory issues
- Wrongful death
Proving Prescription Error Claims
The sale and distribution of pharmaceutical products are regulated by Health Canada under the Food and Drug Act and Regulations. In cases of pharmaceutical negligence, finding the underlying cause of a medication error can be difficult. Doctors, pharmacists, and hospitals sometimes don’t admit to making mistakes, and victims typically don’t have the medical knowledge to identify malpractice or negligence. To make a successful prescription error claim, an experienced medical malpractice lawyer will help you prove that negligence occurred.
The defendant owed a duty of care to the patient – The person filing the medical malpractice claim (the Plaintiff) must show that a medical relationship existed with the healthcare provider (the Defendant) when the prescription error occurred.
The defendant breached this duty of care – When a medical professional does something that a reasonable physician would not have done in the same situation, they have failed their legal obligation to provide proper care to the patient.
The defendant’s negligence caused harm – A prescription error lawyer will use medical records and testimony from expert witnesses to show the type and degree of injuries were caused by the medication error.
The injuries caused damages – The patient must have suffered physical, emotional, or financial damage such as medical bills and lost wages.
The standard of proof for causation in Canada for negligence claims is the “but for” test. The Plaintiff must prove that they would not have suffered damages “but for” the Defendant’s breach of duty to care to the patient and provide the proper medical treatment. For example, causation will be proven if a patient who prescribed the incorrect medication shows that she would not have developed her harm “but for” having received the wrong medication.
If you or someone you know has dealt with medication and prescription errors and believe that it may warrant legal services, there is a time limit to file medical malpractice cases. In Nova Scotia, the statute of limitations to start prescription error claims is two years from the date the incident occurred or the error discovered. There are some exceptions to the deadline, but it’s important to begin the claims process as soon as possible to preserve evidence and records of pharmaceutical negligence.
Damages that a plaintiff can recover full compensation for can include the following:
- Pain and suffering
- Medical costs
- Loss of employment
- Emotional distress
- Future earning capacity
What Should I Do if I’m Given the Wrong Medication?
Ultimately, any prescription errors are the responsibility of healthcare providers, but there are a few things you can do to help protect yourself from taking the wrong medication. As a general precaution, it’s a good idea to ask your prescribing physician questions and be familiar with the recommended medication and dosage. Once you arrive at the pharmacy, double-check that you receive the correct prescription and ensure that you communicate any allergies and existing medications with the pharmacy team.
If you are given the wrong medication, you should contact your doctor and pharmacy immediately. If you are experiencing symptoms, make sure you discuss those with your primary healthcare physician. It’s also helpful to get copies of your medical records and prescriptions, take photos of the medications, and document everything you can regarding the medication error. You can report the medication error to Health Canada, but it’s recommended you speak with a prescription error lawyer (also called a personal injury lawyer) before filing an official report to confirm you have all the necessary information.
Pharmaceutical companies and medical practitioners have insurance companies on their team that want to avoid payouts. It’s not uncommon for insurers to argue pre-existing health conditions to try and get you to back out of a legal claim for medication errors or accept a substandard settlement.
Our experienced team of prescription error lawyers in Halifax will use our extensive knowledge and work closely with our network of medical experts to build the strongest case possible to help get you the compensation you deserve. Book a free case review with Valent Legal to speak with a personal injury lawyer and discuss your legal options for prescription error claims.