Giving a senior the wrong medication is one of the most serious mistakes a nursing home can make. Medication that is even slightly off—the wrong dose, for example, or at the wrong time—can have serious health consequences.
Giving them the wrong drug completely can be disastrous. Every nursing home is required to ensure that patients are free of significant medication errors.
If you or someone you love has been administered the wrong medication in a nursing home, you should speak to a lawyer. The nursing home can and should be held accountable. John Foy & Associates is one of the top Atlanta elder neglect law firms.
We can help you get the financial recovery you’re entitled to. Call us at 404-400-4000 and get a free consultation today.
What Counts as a Medication Error?
In the United States, all prescription medication given to nursing home residents must be prescribed by a physician. Nurses and care staff cannot choose to give medication at their own discretion.
In addition, all medication must be given exactly according to a physician’s instructions. Any failure to do this is a form of medication error—and it can have devastating results.
Examples of medication errors include:
- Administering the wrong medication. This is what most of us think of as a medication error. It can be done because staff aren’t paying attention to the packaging, because they misread instructions or because they are administering it to the wrong patient.
- Administering a medication without physician orders to do so. Staff who aren’t doctors do not have the power to choose prescription drugs, even if they think it will help.
- Giving the wrong dose. This is a tragically common mistake. Staff may simply misread the amount or they may second guess the physician’s orders.
- Giving the wrong form of the medicine. Medicines often come in different forms, such as a liquid, a pill, a paste, etc. Sadly many care staff don’t understand that one form of a drug is not the same as another form. It may be absorbed by the body at a different rate or it may aggravate another medical condition the patient has. This is never acceptable without doctor approval.
- Giving it at the wrong time. Medication schedules are designed to keep the right amount of drug in the patient’s body and minimize drug interactions. A mistimed dose can be serious.
- Ignoring or forgetting instructions from the prescribing physician. Many medication errors happen just because staff aren’t paying close enough attention to their work, or because they rush to do it.
Medication errors happen in all kinds of nursing homes. They are particularly common in skilled nursing facilities, because these facilities perform many of the same duties as hospitals but don’t always have the same level of oversight. 1 in 3 residents at these facilities will experience harm related to treatment, many of them medication errors, and 22% will deal with the results long-term.
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Why do Medication Errors Happen?
Medication errors occur for many reasons. Often, it’s because staff don’t record the medicine they administer (even though they’re required to). Other staff may then not realize the medicine was already given, and give it again. In many other cases it’s because a staff member misreads a label, drug package, or physician’s orders.
Errors can also happen simply from not listening to patients. Patients themselves often notice when a drug is wrong, either before taking it or when they start to experience adverse effects. Staff should listen to residents and take what they say seriously. In some cases, if staff have an authoritative or intimidating attitude, residents won’t even tell them when something is going wrong.
Medication errors can also be compounded by secrecy or a reluctance to admit mistakes. All care staff are required to report changes in condition, due to either medication errors or adverse reactions, as soon as they see them. The attending physician should be notified and able to take action immediately. If staff are reluctant to admit errors, it can mean that a bad situation becomes worse.
What Kinds of Consequences Can Wrong Medication Have?
The potential effects of a medication error are almost limitless. However, the most common consequences include:
- Falls. Drugs may directly cause delirium, drowsiness or dizziness, or they may lower blood pressure or otherwise make it more likely for a patient to have a fall. These falls can lead to fractures, head injuries, and other injuries that are potentially life threatening for the elderly.
- Dehydration or malnutrition. Many drugs can cause dehydration or cause nausea, lack of appetite or upset stomach. Dehydration and malnutrition can be extremely dangerous.
- Behavior changes. A drug error may lead to changes in mental state and behavior, which can itself lead to further risk of accident or injury.
Adverse reactions, and unexpected interactions with other drugs, are also a real and potentially lethal possibility.
Some medications cause serious and adverse side-effects even when administered correctly. For example, Elmiron can damage a patient’s eyes. We can discuss your legal options for cases involving dangerous medications as well.
Can Nursing Homes Be Held Responsible for Drug Errors?
Yes. Federal law requires that nursing homes keep residents free of any significant medication errors. Staff can do this by checking five factors before administering any medication: that they have the right patient, the right medication, the right dosage, the right form of the drug, and the right time. The nursing home also achieves it by keeping good records, communicating all errors to doctors, and training staff to recognize potential adverse reactions.
When a nursing home fails at any part of this, there is no question—they have failed in their legal duty to your loved one.
If this has happened to someone you love, you have legal options. You may be entitled to a financial recovery that can help you pay for medical costs, care, and other costs resulting from the error. The attorneys of John Foy & Associates can help you.
We offer a FREE consultation and we charge nothing unless we get you a financial recovery. Call 404-400-4000 and get your free consultation today.