Magazine article Drug Topics

A Lesson from Prescribers

Magazine article Drug Topics

A Lesson from Prescribers

Article excerpt

With respect to liability medication errors, as goes the prescriber so may go the pharmacist. Stated another way, when a patient is injured by a medication error, the risk of both the prescriber and the pharmacist being sued is very real. That is particularly true in this era of enhanced pharmacist responsibility for preventing, through prospective drug use review and patient counseling, medication-related injuries.

Accordingly, it is to the benefit of pharmacists to know the reasons why prescribers are sued with respect to medication errors. Fortunately, this has been made easy through a recent study by the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA).

Why this study? To explore the issue of physician liability for medication errors, PIAA conducted a special study through its "Data Sharing Project." Some 20 members of PIAA participated in the project by sharing detailed information on almost 100,000 medical malpractice claims. Members of PIAA are physician-owned or directed companies providing professional liability insurance policies. The special study was conducted, according to PIAA officials, because medication errors represent a significant malpractice risk. In fact, the study found that medication errors are second only to myocardial infarction in terms of the frequency with which they are named in lawsuits. Perhaps this finding is not surprising when one considers that the most frequently utilized medical treatment is the prescribing of a medication.

More than 7,000 of the claims in the project database cited medication errors as the primary allegation of negligence. And the cost of these errors in terms of legal damages? Medical liability insurers paid more than $340 million to settle medication error-related cases, with awards and settlement costs averaging $104,000 per claim!

The study examined closely about 400 recently closed medication error claims in the database to determine the cause of the claim. Incorrect or inappropriate dosage was the most frequently cited medication error, mentioned in 11% of the claims reviewed. The second most frequent error involved prescribing the wrong medication for the medical condition of the patient. Among other errors noted were failure to monitor for side effects; poor physician/patient communication; failure to monitor drug levels; inappropriate length of drug treatment; and failure to note a drug allergy.

With the exception of failure to monitor drug levels, the nature of these errors is such that they may be detected and prevented by pharmacists conducting an effective prospective drug use review program. …

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