Military Medication Errors | Military Medical Malpractice Lawyers

Medication Errors in Military Medical Malpractice

The members and veterans of our country’s armed forces deserve the best medical care possible. When we ask these men and women to risk their lives on our behalf, the least we can do is make sure that they receive high-quality medical treatment when they get sick or hurt. Sadly, however, we as a nation collectively let down our service members all too often. Medical malpractice is a common problem in the military healthcare system – and one, particularly concerning issue, is medication errors. Errors involving medications can have serious health consequences for patients in military medical facilities. When these errors occur, victims deserve to be fully compensated for their losses.

Military medical malpractice is one of the core areas of our practice at Bertram Law Group. We firmly believe that military service members deserve justice when they’re injured due to negligent medical errors at VA hospitals and military medical centers. That’s why we built our practice on the principles of accountability and justice.

Our founding attorney, Catherine Bertram, previously worked in the healthcare industry as Director of Risk Management at Georgetown Hospital. While she worked there, Bertram handled medical malpractice claims and also worked with doctors and nurses to reduce patient harm.

This combination of skills, experience, and determination is what sets us apart from other malpractice firms and can help you pursue a successful resolution to your claim. Our Washington, D.C. military medical malpractice law firm, Bertram Law Group, PLLC, is here for military members, veterans, and their families. For your free case review, call us or visit our contact page.

How Do Medication Errors Occur?

Medication errors should be one of the most straightforward medical mistakes to avoid, but they’re shockingly common. One study from the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives found that adverse drug reactions account for more than 3.5 million doctor’s office visits and 1 million ER visits every year. The report also said it’s believed that more than 7 million patients suffer from preventable medication errors every year, at the cost of $21 billion across all healthcare settings.

Finally, the report also noted that about 30 percent of hospitalized patients have at least one discrepancy when it comes to medication reconciliation. Medication reconciliation is the process of looking at all the medications a patient is taking, along with the frequency and dosage, and comparing that information to the admission and discharge orders given by the patient’s doctors.

How do these medication errors occur? Most medication errors can be broken down into two broad categories: Distractions and distortions. Distractions, while not excusable, are relatively easy to understand. Whether they’re in private practice or work at a hospital, doctors are very busy and have many responsibilities. If they’re not careful and paying close attention to their work, they may write the wrong drug or the wrong dosage on a prescription order, leading to a medication error. Distortions often follow distractions and include sloppy handwriting, misunderstood or misused symbols and abbreviations, or doctors and pharmacists substituting the wrong drug if the initial drug is unavailable.

One analysis found that most medication errors occur at one of the following six points in a patient’s care:

  1. Ordering/Prescribing – This is the stage when the doctor initially prescribes the medication. They may order the wrong medicine based on an incomplete or faulty review of the patient’s symptoms, or may be unfamiliar with the patient’s medical history, etc.
  2. Documenting – This is when the doctor writes down the medication order. If the doctor is in a hurry or has sloppy handwriting, it can be difficult for pharmacists or other healthcare providers to read the doctor’s orders, leading to mistakes.
  3. Transcribing – This is when the doctor’s prescription order is transcribed by a nurse, pharmacist, etc. Distractions, illegible handwriting from doctors and overworked staff can lead to transcriptions, causing patients to get the wrong medication, the right medication with the wrong dosage, and other issues.
  4. Dispensing – At this stage, the pharmacy has the order and dispenses the medication to the patient. However, if the pharmacy has inaccurate or incomplete information, they may dispense the wrong medication or dispense the correct medication with the incorrect dosage. Even if the information is complete and accurate, pharmacists may substitute the wrong medication if they aren’t paying attention, as many drugs may have similar names.
  5. Administering – Once the medication has been dispensed, it’s time for it to be administered to the patient, either by a nurse or by the patient. Even if the medication is correct, it must be appropriately administered to have the proper effect. Administration errors include giving medication to the wrong patients, using the wrong route (giving the medication orally instead of through an IV, for example), giving the patient an extra dose of medication they don’t need, and so on.
  6. Monitoring – Assuming everything goes correctly, it’s still essential for patients to be monitored after taking their medication to make sure there aren’t any adverse side effects. However, the monitoring process is not always as robust as it should be, leading to errors. These errors include not accounting for a patient’s liver and kidney function, failing to properly document medications to account for possible allergic reactions, and similar issues.

Potential Negative Outcomes from Medication Errors in the Military

Getting the wrong medication or the wrong dose of the correct medicine can have serious, potentially life-threatening effects for patients.

Some of the potential adverse outcomes from medication errors include:

  • A patient’s existing condition worsens – If you’re not getting the right medication for your condition, you’re not treating the condition properly. This can easily cause the condition to worsen, leading to more severe or additional symptoms.
  • A new condition or injury develops – Prescription medications interact with our bodies in many ways. If you get the wrong medication or the wrong dosage, severe injuries can occur. The wrong medication may cause additional injuries or even wrongful death that might not have occurred if you’d gotten the correct medicine.
  • Allergic reactions/anaphylactic shock – It’s critical for doctors and other healthcare providers to watch out for allergic reactions when they prescribe a medication. In some cases, these reactions can be fairly minor, such as a skin rash, but in more severe cases they can lead to anaphylactic shock. This is an extremely dangerous reaction to medication that makes it difficult for patients to breathe, and it can be fatal if it’s not treated quickly.

How Often Do Medication Errors Occur in Military Hospitals?

Determining how often medication errors occur in military hospitals is difficult. The military has been reluctant to release any data related to the issue. Data from other sources speak to the potential scope of the problem, though.

One study from the American Journal of Nursing estimated that five medication errors occur for every 100 medication administrations. The study noted that not all of these errors would necessarily harm a patient, but it’s still a scary statistic.

It’s not clear if military hospitals or VA hospitals have this same level of errors without hard data. However, there are systemic problems with the way the military cares for veterans and their families. The New York Times has done extensive reporting on this issue. Their reports show a startling pattern of errors slipping through the cracks.

What to Do If I Have an Injury from the Wrong Medication

Here’s what to do if you suspect you’ve been injured due to a medication error:

  • Call your doctor right away and seek medical attention. The medication error may have serious side effects if you’re not treated quickly.
  • Contact the pharmacy or hospital to report the error.
  • Keep the incorrect prescription bottle and take pictures of the label. DO NOT throw away the bottle or the medication inside.
  • Save any medical records you have related to your treatment, especially any prescription orders from your doctor.
  • Contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.

When to Contact a Military Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you’ve served in the military and you’ve been the victim of medication error in a military or VA hospital it’s essential to speak to a qualified and knowledgeable military medical malpractice attorney right away. The team at Bertram Law Group, PLLC stands ready to fight relentlessly to pursue a medication error lawsuit if necessary.

Our case results show that we know how to fight the healthcare system and win. We’ve helped our clients collect tens of millions of dollars in compensation. To get the legal representation you need, call our office or visit our contact page to for a free and confidential initial consultation.

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