Is It Medical Malpractice if My Doctor Prescribed the Wrong Medicine?

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In the United States, an average of four in five adults take at least one medication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although these medications help improve the lives of those who take them, illness and injuries from medication mistakes happen as well. 

If your health care provider ordered the wrong medication or the wrong dosage without considering your health history or drug interactions, and you were harmed as a result, you may have cause to sue for medical malpractice

Are Medication Mistakes Common?

Adverse drug events are linked to approximately 1.3 million emergency room visits annually in this country, and 350,000 people are hospitalized every year because of problems with medication. Medication mistakes happen for many reasons, and most are preventable. 

Does Every Medication Constitute Medical Malpractice?

We put tremendous trust in our doctors, specialists, and other health care providers to make the right decisions for our health and well-being. Most medical professionals are committed to providing a superior standard of care for every patient, every day. 

Providers have to make difficult choices about patient care, which are informed by their skills, training, and experience. Also, patients with serious illness may still decline despite the best efforts of their medical team. Undesirable patient outcomes do not always mean that malpractice occurred. 

Key Elements of a Successful Malpractice Claim

Successful malpractice claims related to medication errors consist of the following four elements.

Duty of care. It must be shown that a relationship between the patient and their provider existed when the medication error occurred. The provider must have been responsible for treating the patient and entrusted to provide the required standard of care based on the patient’s health history and symptoms or condition, and the provider’s training and expertise. 

Breach of duty. Next, it must be shown that by making a serious medication error, the health care provider failed to provide the acceptable standard of care. 

Causation. The provider’s medical mistake must be directly linked to the patient’s poor outcome. A poor outcome can be a serious side effect, illness, or injury.

Damages. If the doctor prescribed the wrong medicine or the wrong dosage, but the patient was unharmed, there is no cause to bring a medical malpractice claim. The patient must incur damages as a direct result of the health care provider’s negligence.

Common Medication Mistakes

Taking any type of prescription or nonprescription medication comes with inherent risk. We depend on medical professionals to prescribe safe and appropriate options to reduce these risks.

Some medications are inherently dangerous. Several widely used products have been recalled by manufacturers because they were found to be dangerous and even fatal. 

Others pose a risk when improperly prescribed. After the doctor orders medication, it is sent to the pharmacist, typically submitted by a nurse or office staff member. Miscommunication at any point can lead to the wrong medicine or dosage. 

Here are the most common medication errors that put patients at risk of serious health problems.

Wrong medications or dosages. When a patient receives the wrong medication or is instructed to take the wrong dosage, the consequences can be serious. Medication should be prescribed for the patient’s diagnosis and administered through the proper route in safe amounts. 

These errors were more common when doctors wrote on paper scripts, often with illegible writing. Fortunately, most health care providers and systems have transitioned to electronic health records, which makes it easier to track patient data and reduce the chance of prescription drug errors. 

Harmful medications. Medications that are considered safe for most patients can pose a risk to others who have allergies to certain ingredients or are taking other medicines that can cause dangerous drug interactions. Pharmacists and physicians have a duty of care to cross-check for allergies and interactions when ordering and filling prescriptions. 

Mislabeled medications. Patients follow their doctor’s guidance and the instructions on the label and packaging on their prescribed medications. If the product is mislabeled at the manufacturing stage, the injured patient may have grounds to bring a products liability claim. When the pharmacy mislabels the medication, the pharmacist may be liable for a medication error that causes harm. This would be considered a medical malpractice case. 

Improper medication handling. Some medications lose their efficacy if they are not prepared or stored properly. Many drugs must be stored in specific temperatures or conditions. For example, vaccines, insulin, and reconstituted antibiotics should all be kept cold. 

Improper handling can taint drugs or render them ineffective. When medications are not handled with proper sanitation, they can also become contaminated, posing a risk of infection to the patient. 

In summary, these are the many different types of medication mistakes that occur in health care: 

  • Wrong dosage 
  • Wrong medication 
  • Wrong route 
  • Wrong frequency 
  • Wrong instructions
  • Wrong time
  • Wrong patient
  • Wrong ingredients
  • Wrong condition 
  • Wrong interactions

Damages in a Medical Malpractice Claim

If you were injured by medical malpractice, you can potentially recover a wide range of damages, based on how the medication error impacted your life. There are three types of possible damages available in malpractice claims.

General damages. General damages refer to the ways a medical mistake impacted your life that are not easy to quantify. They include things such as physical and mental pain and trauma, the loss of the enjoyment of life, and the loss of the ability to earn income going forward. 

Special damages. Special damages are more specific and easier to calculate. They include medical bills and lost income because of missed work. If your condition prevents you from working in the foreseeable future, you can possibly add future medical costs and lost wages to your damages. 

Punitive damages. Punitive damages are less common in medical malpractice cases, but they are important in cases of grievous negligence. They apply to cases in which the physician or provider in question should have known they acted in a harmful manner. 

Punitive damages can be considered a form of punishment for someone who willfully and intentionally harms a patient. One example would be a surgeon who knowingly makes a mistake during surgery to ensure the patient has to return for additional procedures. 

Limitations on Damages Vary from State to State

Some states have a cap on the total amount of overall damages a patient can recover in a medical malpractice case. Others only have a cap on general damages such as compensation for the psychological impact of pain, suffering, scarring, and disfigurement. 

Maryland is one of the states that places a cap only on non-economic or general damages. That cap increases annually by $15,000 to reflect inflation. Patients in Maryland can collect the full amount of economic or special damages with no limits. 

What Should I Do if I Became Seriously Ill after Taking the Wrong Medication?

If you believe your health suffered as a result of a medication error, medical attention should be your first priority. Always save any documentation related to your care including reports, tests, prescriptions, and bills for doctors’ visits and hospitalization. 

Next, schedule a consultation with an attorney who focuses their practice on medical malpractice claims in your state. Medical negligence cases are quite complex and require extensive legal and medical insight. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer should have a network of medical professionals available to provide guidance on your case. 

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Protect the Rights of Clients Dealing with Medical Mistakes  

If you are a patient suffering from a doctor’s mistake, reach out to the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. Our experienced, compassionate team is committed to protecting our clients at every stage of the legal process. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

We have offices in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, allowing us to represent clients in Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.