Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) addressed attendees of the Patient Safety, Science & Technology Summit this year, outlining the common errors made by health care workers as reported to federal agencies. Adverse drug events, which are “injuries resulting from a medical intervention to a drug,” are one of the most prevalent medical errors.

Effects of adverse drug events

ADEs include medication errors, adverse drug or allergic reactions and overdoses. They can occur in hospitals, outpatient facilities or nursing homes. The effects of ADEs are staggering:

  • Account for one-third of all hospital adverse events
  • Prolong a stay in the hospital by two to five days
  • Account for approximately 125,000 hospital admissions of those ADEs that occur outside of a hospital setting
  • Account for approximately 3.5 million doctor’s office visits annually

Are ADEs preventable?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Patient Safety Network estimates that about half of all ADEs are preventable. There are many steps from prescribing a medication to a patient receiving that medication. First, the clinician selects the medication and dose. Then, the prescription is transcribed into a system to get the medication from the pharmacy. The pharmacist dispenses the medication, and then the patient is administered the medication, either by a nurse, caregiver or the patient.

The Patient Safety Network reports that the majority of errors occur in the prescribing and transcribing stages, but errors can occur at all stages along the way. Generally, it is the responsibility of the health care technicians to ensure drug safety and to prevent adverse interactions. However, patients should be proactive in their care and ask questions when something does not seem right.

Although providers are generally liable for medication errors, it can be difficult to determine at what point the error actually occurred. Those injured due to a prescription error may need legal assistance to determine which entity is liable for their injuries and to receive compensation.