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How common are medication errors, and who is responsible for them?

Needing medication can be difficult and stressful. The right medication can relieve your symptoms and, in some cases, improve your quality of life. The wrong medication can make your condition much worse.

A medication error occurs when a preventable event causes you to receive the wrong medication. Depending on what your medical situation is, you may have several people on your medical team. Your medical team relies on clear communication and documentation to ensure you receive the correct treatments, but sometimes, members of the team fail.

What are medication errors?

Prescription drugs can help you recover from a lot of different maladies. The medicine your doctor prescribes may be part of a long-term treatment, or it may be a cure that will completely relieve your illness.

Medication errors affect over one million people every year and can cover a wide range of mistakes, including:

  • Receiving the wrong drug
  • Delays in distribution
  • Incorrect labeling
  • Improper education about the medication

When your medical team fails to administer your medication, it can delay your recovery or even make you worse.

Who makes medication errors?

Most often, your doctor is the central part of your medical team prescribing your treatment plan. Once there is a plan in place, it is up to everyone on your medical team to help you complete that plan.

Since multiple people are involved in developing and implementing the plan, fault depends on the person who makes a mistake. Often medical workers are overtired and stressed, which leads them to mix up medications or confuse patient orders. There are also numerous opportunities for miscommunications between medical personnel.

Preventing errors

Ultimately your medical team is responsible for your treatment, but you can be your own advocate to help avoid mistakes. When you receive orders for a new treatment, ask questions so that you understand what your medical team should be doing. Ask your doctor questions, such as:

  • What do my medications look like and how much should I take at one time?
  • What times should I receive medication and how many treatments will I receive at one time?
  • What are the common side effects of these medications?

When you are willing to interact with and become part of your medical team, you can help them provide you with better care.

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