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Medication errors can cause serious harm to elders

If your loved one is in a nursing home or assisted living facility, caregivers are responsible for administering required medications, and you trust them to do that correctly. However, mistakes happen, and although hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities are quick to advertise the safety features they have in place, they do not provide specific information about harm caused to patients due to medical mistakes. However, you can help reduce the chance of medication errors by taking an active role in the care of your elderly family member.

How medication mistakes occur

There are many possible causes of medication errors, with poor communication between healthcare providers being among the most common. Another issue is that medication names sometimes sound alike or have similar medical abbreviations. There may have been a misdiagnosis resulting in the wrong medication being prescribed. Errors may also result from dosages being duplicated or omitted entirely. Unfortunately, nursing home errors might be caused because a facility is simply understaffed.

Possible results of medication errors

Studies conducted at nursing homes indicate that medical errors affect one in five residents. Of these, 37 percent are medication mistakes. Patient reaction to such mistakes is usually minor, but a major problem is known as an adverse drug event and can include reduced immune response, malnutrition or dehydration, organ failure or some other unforeseen and serious medical complications, including death.

Engage in medication reconciliation

You can take an active part in the care of your loved ones by learning all you can about the medications that have been prescribed for them and educating yourself on the effects of incorrect dosing, possible interactions with other drugs and related issues. You can also practice what is called medication reconciliation with the doctor. This involves making a comparison between the current medications the patient takes and those previously taken. It is a way of double-checking that can help avoid such problems as dosing errors and drug interactions.

Check on facility staff

Some medication errors are made inadvertently, perhaps because the nurse administering a drug forgets that the patient is allergic to a particular medication. Other mistakes occur because the nursing facility staff members are not trained properly, have been given unclear prescription directions or are confused about the rules in place regarding the dispensing of medications. If a facility is understaffed, nurses may be exhausted, which could easily lead to medication errors. Be sure you check on staff regularly to see how they are performing.

If you sense any sort of irregularity in proper patient care or mistake in the medications your loved one receives, you may wish to reach out to an attorney experienced with nursing home negligence for advice as to further steps that might be taken.

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