Exploring the Root Causes of Prescription Drug Errors

by | May 28, 2024 | Medical Malpractice

If you take a prescription drug, you are far from alone. According to some estimates, approximately 85 percent of people over the age of 60 reported taking at least one prescription drug during the previous month, and roughly 45 percent of all American adults said the same. As patients, we trust that the medical professionals who prescribe these medications make such decisions from an informed and cautious perspective to minimize the potential of adverse effects or harmful interactions with other medications. We also put our trust in the pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to dispense the correct medications in the proper dosages. Although many people benefit from the prescribed medications, prescription drug errors do happen. Even a minor oversight on the part of a pharmacist or lab technician can lead to serious consequences, including patient injury or even death. If you or someone you love has developed an injury or adverse health condition because of a medication prescribing error, you have the option to file a medical malpractice claim against the party whose negligence contributed to the injuries. Consider enlisting the guidance and support of a highly qualified and caring Seattle pharmacy medical malpractice attorney to review your claim. This post will explore some of the root causes and common types of prescription drug errors, as well as the steps you can take to recover the compensation you need to support the costs of your recovery.

Identifying Prescription Errors in Washington State

First, it’s important to understand what we mean by prescription drug errors. According to the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention (NCCMERP), a medication error is “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer. Such events may be related to professional practice, health care products, procedures, and systems, including prescribing, order communication, product labeling, packaging, and nomenclature, compounding, dispensing, distribution, administration, education, monitoring, and use.” In other words, medication errors can happen at any point between the healthcare provider’s decision to prescribe a particular drug and the monitoring of the patient’s use of the medication once they have obtained it from the pharmacy. Any mistakes, oversights, or mix-ups during this process—no matter how seemingly minor they are—can lead to serious health complications that may require considerable medical intervention or long-term care. Essentially, if you suffer an adverse health event because of a prescription drug error, you may be entitled to recover compensation from the negligent party responsible for the harm they caused you.

Causes of Prescription Errors in King County and Beyond

There are several reasons why a prescription drug error may occur. Many steps must take place between the time when a physician prescribes a medication and when the patient receives the medication, and every step along this journey carries the potential for mistakes to happen. Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons why preventable errors occur, many of which point to failures in the larger healthcare system to ensure the safety of patients.


Prescribing, filling, dispensing, and monitoring a new medication inherently involves multiple healthcare professionals. However, when miscommunication or poor communication occurs between these medical professionals, errors can arise. For example, a doctor’s illegible writing can prompt a pharmacist to misinterpret the type of medication being prescribed. In other cases, a pharmacy technician may confuse one drug with another medication that is similarly named or labeled, causing them to provide the patient with the wrong medication. Medical abbreviations can also cause confusion and result in the incorrect medication ending up in the patient’s hands.

Unawareness of Allergies and Drug Interactions

When a physician is deciding whether to prescribe a new medication to a patient, they must consider other medications that the patient is taking to prevent potentially harmful drug interactions. Moreover, the prescribing healthcare professional should ask the patient about any allergies or sensitivities they have to certain medications or substances to ensure that the new medication does not cause adverse reactions. As a patient, it’s always a good idea to provide your doctor with an updated list of your current medications and known allergies to minimize the potential for harmful medication interactions.

Medication Administration Mistakes

Pharmacies receive prescriptions, and the technicians and pharmacists are tasked with filling them according to the prescriber’s instructions. However, mistakes during this process can occur. For example, the pharmacist or technician may fill the prescription with the incorrect medication or the wrong dosage. In other cases, the pharmacist or pharmacy technician may give the medication to the wrong patient. Any of these mix-ups can lead to severe consequences, such as medical complications, cardiac events, or other adverse health effects.

Systemic Issues Within Healthcare Settings

Today’s healthcare system is struggling with significant challenges that jeopardize patient safety. Understaffing in medical offices and pharmacies means that less time is devoted to individual patient care, which may increase the likelihood of a prescription drug error. With fewer staff members available to provide high-quality care, these medical professionals also face mounting time pressures that may cause them to work too quickly and potentially overlook risky drug interactions when prescribing new medications to their patients. At a system-wide level, a lack of standardized protocols, a reliance on outdated technology, and insufficient safety protocols can contribute to medication errors. Unfortunately, patients may suffer adverse health events because of these larger issues that threaten the safety and effectiveness of the healthcare system as a whole.

Common Prescribing Errors and Their Impact on Patients

While some patients may not experience adverse health effects due to a prescription medication error, others may suffer serious harm because of these mistakes. In some cases, medication errors can be fatal. The physical damage caused by prescription errors varies widely, but some of the most common side effects and reactions include the following: Allergic reactions that cause hives, rashes, breathing difficulties, or anaphylaxis; damage to internal organs; cardiac events, such as stroke or heart attack; nausea and vomiting; reduced effects of the medication; seizures; brain damage; and, in severe cases, death. In addition to these harmful physical effects, prescription errors can cause significant emotional trauma and financial damage (especially if the medication error requires long-term or ongoing medical care, which can be expensive). If you or someone close to you has been harmed due to someone else’s negligence in prescribing or dispensing medications, you deserve strong, effective representation. Reach out to a knowledgeable and empathetic Seattle medical malpractice attorney to review your claim.

4 Elements of a Pharmacy Medical Malpractice Claims

Navigating the complexities of a pharmacy malpractice claim can be daunting. When medication errors occur, they can lead to serious health repercussions. It’s crucial for patients and their families to understand their legal rights and the process involved in seeking compensation for any harm suffered. This guide breaks down the four fundamental elements of a pharmacy malpractice claim that a plaintiff must establish to succeed in their case.

1. Duty

Every pharmacist is legally obligated to provide care that aligns with the professional standards expected in the pharmacy industry. This is known as ‘duty of care.’ In legal terms, a duty arises when a pharmacist-patient relationship is established, which begins when a pharmacist engages with a patient’s healthcare by managing their medication.

Example: When a pharmacist receives a prescription to fill, they are responsible for dispensing the correct medication and advising on its proper use.

2. Breach

A breach occurs when a pharmacist fails to fulfill their duty of care. This is often referred to as a deviation from the standard of care, where the pharmacist’s actions or omissions fall below the accepted industry standard.

Example: A breach might involve dispensing the wrong dosage or medication that conflicts dangerously with the patient’s existing prescriptions.

3. Causation

Causation links the breach of duty directly to the harm suffered by the patient. It must be demonstrated that the pharmacist’s error directly caused the patient’s injury or worsened health condition.

Example: If a pharmacist dispenses a much stronger dose than prescribed, resulting in the patient’s hospitalization, this would illustrate causation.

4. Damages

Damages refer to the actual harm or injury suffered by the patient due to the pharmacist’s negligence.This includes physical, emotional, and financial consequences suffered by the patient.

Example: Damages can range from medical expenses and lost wages to pain and suffering and long-term health care costs.

Understanding these elements can empower patients and their advocates to take appropriate legal action. If you or someone close to you has been harmed due to someone else’s negligence in prescribing or dispensing medications, you deserve strong, effective representation. Contact Menzer Law Group at (206) 903-1818 for a complimentary case evaluation. We understand the emotional and physical toll you may be going through, and we are committed to responding to you promptly and respectfully.