Prescription Errors

Prescription errors are one of the most common medical mistakes that occur in healthcare settings. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, over 770,000 people are injured or die each year in hospitals from adverse drug events (ADEs). Patients who experienced ADEs were often hospitalized an average of 8-12 days longer than those who didn’t suffer ADEs and cost them tens of thousands of dollars more.

Mistakes often stem from human error, which can be attributed to physicians, nurses, other healthcare professionals, or pharmacists. Doctors are notoriously known for illegible handwriting, which can be misread by a pharmacist and easily mistaken for an incorrect drug. Many prescription medications have similar names, but treat entirely different conditions. If a physician does not carefully assess each patient and take note of current prescriptions, a new prescription may lead to undesirable and potentially serious interactions.

Diagnosis & Care

Young children are particularly vulnerable to dose-related prescription errors since they have not yet built up the immune system or the chemical tolerance that most adults possess. Physicians must pay careful attention when prescribing a child medication since age and weight directly effect indicated dosages. Research indicates that one in every eighteen prescriptions written for children involve some type of medication or dosage related error. Older adults are also at an increased risk because they often take multiple prescription medications. According to the FDA, almost half of all fatal medical errors occur in people over the age of 60.

If an individual is prescribed multiple medications, there is always a chance that a particular cocktail of prescriptions could interact negatively and cause adverse effects, which is why protocol exists for both physicians and pharmacists. A patient’s known allergies must also be taken into account whenever a physician prescribes medication. Dispensing incorrect dosages of medication, either too much or too little, can also have devastating consequences.


As a consumer, there are certain actions you can take to avoid becoming a victim to prescription errors. Make sure to read all medications carefully to ensure that your information is correct; speak with your pharmacist about drug interactions and side effects; and read any available information about the medication on the internet. There is never an excuse for a medical professional’s negligence, but certain errors can be avoided by educating yourself on your condition and your prescriptions and asking appropriate questions. Whenever you are prescribed medication, ask your physician the name of the drug, the correct dosage, and what the drug is treating. Ensure that you understand any unique directions for each medication (i.e. storage requirements, number of doses a day, and food interactions).

When health care providers fail to ensure that a patient receives the proper medication, they may be liable for any resulting damages caused by their negligence. Research shows that nearly 90 percent of all medication errors are largely preventable when health care providers follow proper protocol. If you or someone in your family has suffered injury or illness as a result of prescription errors, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact the medical malpractice lawyers at the Law Offices of Wais, Vogelstein, Forman & Offutt for a free consultation about your legal options.

Additional Resources

For more information on prescription errors, the following resources are available: