Reducing Medication Errors in Alabama: Hospitals Try New Strategy

Dangerous drug interactions and medication errors account for some 7,000 deaths in hospital emergency rooms nationwide each year, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
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Of course, such errors can occur in any type of health care facility, including nursing homes, long-term care facilities and dialysis centers. However, Montgomery wrongful death attorneys recognize emergency rooms as particularly risky because of the fast-paced nature of the environment. It’s easy for a decimal in a prescription order to become misplaced or for a doctor’s handwriting to be misunderstood by a harried nurse administering the drug.

It’s exacerbated by the fact that in a doctor’s office setting, a doctor may be counting on the fact that if there is a problem, a pharmacist will fact check him later. In an emergency room, it doesn’t work like that. Or at least, it didn’t used to work like that.

Now, according to a new report by Alabama Public Radio, a number of hospitals here and throughout the country have begun employing staff pharmacists in emergency rooms to review prescription orders before they are administered.

While they may have a limited medical history on the patient, they would be looking to see if there are any potentially harmful drug interactions, any unusually large dosages that could be dangerous, and otherwise running orders through a kind of medical “spell check” system in order to ensure that what is on the order is likely what the doctor intended.

At a large children’s hospital in an urban area, a pharmacist could easily scan through an average of 20,000 prescription medication orders annually. For children, the research might be even more involved, analyzing things such as the child’s allergies, weight, medications and health insurance. Pharmacists say medication errors are almost twice as likely to occur with children, which is a frightening thing to hear when you consider the impact certain drugs can have on young kids. As their systems are not yet fully formed, they are not well-equipped to fight off large, improper doses of powerful narcotics.

At some larger hospitals, health systems have begun employing as many as 10 pharmacists full-time. However, there are many smaller, privately-owned systems that still don’t have any on staff. The main thing holding them back is money. In some cases, these smaller hospitals struggle to keep their emergency departments staffed with the required core number of doctors, nurses and aides. Adding a full-time pharmacists would break the bank.

Of course, these are the hospitals that could likely benefit the most. Research has well-established that health care facilities which are overstaffed have workers who are most likely to make critical errors with regard to patient care.

A study published last year in the Annals of Emergency Medicine indicated that a group of hospitals using just an electronic monitor to catch potential medication errors still found a quarter of all children’s prescriptions were wrong, as well as 10 percent of adult medications.

Sometimes, these errors result in minor complications. Other times, they are life-altering, life-threatening or even life-ending. In those situations, it’s important to contact an experienced wrongful death attorney to discuss your rights.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 1-866-942-9315 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Hospitals Put Pharmacists In The ER To Cut Medication Errors, June 9, 2014, By Lauren Silverman, Alabama Public Radio
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