The Possibility of a Medication Error in Nursing Homes

medicine cup with pills

Medication errors can cause significant harm, especially among older adults who live in a nursing home. These individuals are often dependent upon others for their medical and for assistance with activities of daily living. When nursing home staff members give residents the wrong medication, or the correct medication but in the wrong dose, there is often little that nursing home residents can do. In fact, many nursing home residents may not even realize the medication error until it is too late.

A study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society revealed that between 16% and 27% of nursing home residents have been victims of medication home errors and that 75% of patients included in the studies had been the victim of at least one medication error. While death from a nursing home medication is rare, serious complications are possible.

If you have placed a loved one in a nursing home, it is important that you understand how common medication errors in nursing homes are, why they happen, and the possible effects of a nursing home medication error. You also need to know what to do if a nursing home medication error has occurred.

Types of Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

Common medication errors in nursing homes include:

  • Giving a patient the wrong medication. Nursing home staff may not know which medication they are supposed to give to a resident, or might write down the wrong prescription or grab the wrong bottle. A staff member might misread the chart, or confuse medications that have similar names.
  • Providing the wrong dosage. A staff member might misread the prescription amount and give the patient too much or too little of the medication. This can result in an overdose, or not giving enough medication to treat the resident’s medical condition.
  • Ignoring a patient’s medical history. Some medications cause allergic reactions. If a staff member is not aware of a resident’s medical history or ignores it, the resident could suffer an allergic reaction.
  • Administering medications that should not be given together. Some medications cannot be taken together. Nursing home staff members must know what medications a resident is taking, and what medications cannot be given together. If a resident has been prescribed medications that cannot be taken at the same time, the staff member must take steps to ensure that there is adequate time between administrations of medication to avoid adverse results.
  • Improperly administering medications. Improperly administering medications can occur if a staff member gives a resident medication at the wrong time, or by administering medication incorrectly, such as by splitting a pill that should not be split, crushing a capsule that has instructions not to be crushed, not providing adequate liquids with the medication, failing to shake the medication, or improperly administering eyedrops.
  • Failing to provide medication. In some cases, nursing home staff simply fail to provide the medication. This could be due to oversight, such as by not writing down when a medication was administered, although it could also be intentional.
  • Improperly preparing medications. Some medications must be prepared a certain way to be effective. If a nursing home staff member or pharmacist improperly prepares a medication, a resident could suffer harm.

Causes of Nursing Home Medication Errors

A common cause of nursing home medication errors is understaffing. Too many nursing homes are chronically understaffed. When staff members are overworked, they are tired and more likely to make a mistake. A staff member may be distracted or rushed, improperly trained, unclear about a rule or protocol, or not clear about the prescription instructions.

Other times nursing home staff will simply ignore medication instructions, provide medications that are not ordered, or discontinue providing a medication.

Another cause of nursing home medication errors occurs when nursing home staff borrow medication from one resident to give to another. When this happens, mistakes can occur.

Finally, nursing home staff members may be stealing medications for their own personal use, or to sell to others.

The Impact of Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

The effect of medication errors can run the gamut from no notable effects to wrongful death. In some cases, a medication error can cause a new condition that must be treated. This may be temporary, such as an itch or a rash, or may result in a permanent injury such as skin disfigurement, heart failure, or cognitive decline.

Identifying a medication error can be difficult. Many nursing home residents are already dealing with an illness or injury. Without medical training, it can be difficult to discern what symptoms are a result of a normal decline in health, and which ones were caused by a medication error.

If you believe someone you love suffered a medication error, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Once your loved one’s condition has stabilized, you should request a copy of your loved one’s entire nursing home record, and contact an attorney to help you decide whether you may have a claim for compensation.

What To Do After a Nursing Home Medication Error

If someone you love was injured in a nursing home because of a medication error, your family may be entitled to compensation. If someone you love suffered from a medication error in a nursing home, they may have required additional medical attention, which resulted in additional medical expenses. In the worst cases, a medication error can lead to wrongful death.

The experienced nursing home medication error attorneys at Robenalt Law can review your case and determine whether your family may be eligible for compensation. But you need to act quickly. Most cases against nursing homes are subject to a one-year statute of limitations. If you do not take action, you could be prevented from seeking compensation.

We invite you to learn more about our nursing home negligence practice, to meet our attorneys, and to learn why clients choose us. Then contact our Ohio law office today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case. We handle nursing home negligence cases on a contingency fee, which means we don’t get paid unless we recover money for you.

Tom Robenalt started his litigation career representing nursing homes at a large firm in Cleveland. For the past 25 years, he has used that experience to help victims and the families of those injured by negligent health care providers.

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