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Medication Errors Harm 1.5 Million Annually

The Institute of Medicine issued a report last week saying that medication errors are responsible for injuring or killing at least 1.5 million Americans each year – averaging one drug mistake per hospital every day.

A previous institute report revealed that as many as 98,000 are killed every year as a result of medical errors. Of those, approximately 7,000 are caused by drug mistakes, including: wrong doses, drug name confusion, and numerous other problems.

“We were initially quite surprised by the number of mistakes, but the more we heard, the more convinced we were that these are actually serious underestimates,” said Dr. Kevin Johnson, panel member and associate professor at Vanderbilt University.

A Tragic Mistake

The study cited the story of Betsy Lehman, a health reporter for the Boston Globe. Lehman, a 39-year-old mother wife and mother of two, was receiving experimental treatment for breast cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 1994.

She died after a nurse administered in a single dose the amount she was supposed to receive over four days. Lehman's complaints about the effects of the overdose went ignored, said her family.

Institute Recommendations

The study makes various recommendations for minimizing the risk of medication errors. Some of those recommendations emphasize the use of computers – for prescribing, administering, and tracking – as a way to reduce mistakes.

“The current process by which medications are prescribed, dispensed, administered and monitored is characterized by many serious problems that threaten both the safety and positive outcomes of patients,” said panel co-chairman J. Lyle Bootman.

According to the institute report, an estimated 400,000 of the annual drug-related injuries are preventable. The drugs most frequently associated with mistakes are insulin, morphine, potassium chloride, and certain anticoagulants.

Victim of a medication error? Please contact us to learn more about your legal rights and options.

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