Medical errors can occur at any time—but a recent study raises the issue of whether patients in Maryland are at greater risk for Maryland medical errors on weekends than during the week. The study looked at all medication errors reported by healthcare practitioners over a two-year period at one hospital. There were 2,626 medical errors reported during the two-year period that that hospital alone. The most common sub-category of medical errors was prescribing errors, which amounted to 55% of all medical errors.

The study found statistically significant differences between many sub-categories of medical errors in day shifts and night shifts during weekdays and weekends. The medical errors were higher during the weekdays than during the weekends. But during the weekends, medical errors during the night shifts were more common than during the day shifts. The highest percentage of prescribing errors occurred on weekdays during night shifts (amounting to 77% and 79% of all errors). The study noted that other studies had found higher rates of medical errors during night shifts.

The study’s findings demonstrate that timing is an important factor in improving the use of medication and enhancing patient safety. The study reiterated that medication errors “are a serious public health problem that threatens patient safety and imposes substantial costs.” Medication errors are defined by the U.S. National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Preventing as “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.”

While many doctors and pharmacists work tirelessly to avoid pharmacy errors, unfortunately, errors still occur—sometimes, with devastating effects for patients. If a patient suffers injuries due to a Maryland pharmacy error, the patient may be able to seek financial compensation through a negligence claim.

The first step after discovering an injury due to a pharmacy error is to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. An experienced Maryland injury attorney can advise injured patients on what steps to take specific to their case and what deadlines apply. In general, the next step to take as quickly as possible is to find and hold on to evidence that may disappear with time, including medical records, medication bottles, photos, video surveillance, and more. Depending on the circumstances of the case, a patient may need to file a claim or a notice of the claim quickly as well. Each claim is subject to a statute of limitations, which limits the amount of time in which a claim may be filed. Depending on the circumstances of the case, there may need to be a substantial investigation done before and after a complaint is filed, including determining the names and entities responsible for the patient’s injuries who should be named as plaintiffs, the basis for the complaint, and alleged damages.

In a negligence claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty of care toward the plaintiff, the defendant failed to meet that duty by acting or failing to act in some way, the defendant’s lack of care caused the plaintiff’s damages, and the plaintiff suffered damages.

As vaccination rates for COVID-19 continue to increase throughout the country, vaccine errors—although uncommon—do continue to occur. Individuals who suffer injuries due to a Maryland vaccine error may be able to file suit against the person and entities responsible for the error. Most vaccine errors are not purposeful, but rather are the result of mistakes. These lawsuits generally are based on negligence.

A negligence claim requires that a plaintiff demonstrate that a person or entity had a duty to act a certain way towards the plaintiff, failed to meet that duty by acting or failing to act in some way, the failure caused the plaintiff damages, and the plaintiff suffered damages. Generally, negligence claims must be filed within three years of the date of the injury. A plaintiff has to show that it is more likely than not that the victim’s injuries were caused by the defendant’s conduct.

Some vaccine error cases may cause the vaccine to be ineffective, exposing the patient to harm as an unvaccinated individual. Other vaccine errors can directly result in injury and even death. Pharmacists, pharmacies, manufacturers, hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other medical providers all may be potential defendants in vaccine error cases. Filing a vaccine error lawsuit requires substantial time and diligence before and after filing the lawsuit, including investigating the claim and potential defendants, properly filing and serving the complaint, meeting deadlines, filing motions, engaging in negotiations, and trying the case. Damages may include past and future medical treatment, lost income, pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and loss of parental care.

The COVID-19 vaccine has been a welcome achievement for many. All individuals 12 and older living in Maryland are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and more than 6 million doses have been administered so far. But with the rate of vaccinations in the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history, COVID-19 vaccine-related errors do occur. According to one news source, an analysis of COVID-19-related event reports that were submitted to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices National Vaccine Errors Reporting Program from December 2020 to April 2021 reveals common COVID-19 vaccine errors:

Shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA)

COVID-19 vaccines can be improperly injected into a patient’s shoulder joint instead of the deltoid muscle in the upper arm. This may occur due to a lack of training on the correct technique for administering intramuscular vaccines.

Causation is an essential element of any Maryland pharmacy error claim. Establishing the element of causation means showing that a defendant’s wrongful conduct was a “cause-in-fact” and a legally cognizable cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. This means that a plaintiff has to show that the defendant’s actions were an actual cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and that they were reasonably foreseeable and expected so that the defendant should be held liable. A defendant’s conduct may not be a legally cognizable cause of the plaintiff’s injuries if the resulting injuries were not an expected or reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s conduct.

In pharmacy error cases, causation can be more complicated, because many patients who take medication are already sick. So in some cases, it can be difficult to determine whether the patient’s injuries were caused by the pharmacy error or by the patient’s underlying ailment. In cases where there was more than one factor that brought about an injury, Maryland courts apply the substantial factor test. Under that test, courts will look at the defendant’s conduct to determine if it was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries. Pharmacy error cases often require testimony from an expert to provide an opinion on the effect of the pharmacy error and to explain how it affected the patient.

Cancer Patient Given Dosage Five Times Stronger Than Prescribed

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention, a medication error is a “preventable event that may cause or lead to” a patient using inappropriate medication or experiencing harm while the medication is in control of a healthcare professional or patient. Maryland medication and pharmacy errors can occur at any time during a patient’s care, such as during prescribing, dispensing and administering medications. Although medications may carry the risk of side effects, a medication error can result in severe and life-threatening injuries.

The FDA reports that the agency receives over 100,000 complaints of suspected medication errors every year. The report separates the claims and classifies them based on cause and type of error. The reports stem from healthcare professionals, drug manufacturers, and consumers. The reports often allege death, life-threatening injuries, hospitalizations, disability, and birth defects. The FDA takes steps to prevent and reduce medication errors by taking steps before the pharmaceutical receives approval. The agency reviews the drug’s name, labeling, and design to reduce the likelihood of medication errors. For example, they take steps to ensure that the names are not easily confused with another drug. Further, they review labels to ensure that drugs that have different strengths are distinguishable from one another.

While these steps are necessary and likely prevent many medication errors, pharmaceutical errors continue to occur. These errors often stem from poor communication between a patient’s various healthcare providers or between a healthcare provider and a patient or pharmacist. Further, they may arise because of issues with similar-sounding drug names or medical abbreviations.

Medication errors still occur frequently despite substantial efforts to reduce medication errors throughout the country. According to one study, adverse drug events make up over one million emergency department visits and 3.5 million physician office visits each year. Those who are injured due to Maryland medication error may suffer from physical and mental effects after the error.

Medication errors may occur because of look-alike or sound-alike medications, labeling errors, unclear prescriptions, prescribing errors, failure to check for adverse reactions due to allergies or other drugs, or other reasons. Pharmacists may also fail to give adequate instructions and warnings. If someone has been injured due to a medication error, they have the right to file a claim for monetary compensation from the wrongful actor. An injured patient in Maryland may be able to recover compensation through a negligence claim by demonstrating that the wrongful actor failed to meet the required standard of care and injured the patient due to the negligent conduct. Certain family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim in the tragic event of the patient’s death.

Denial After a Medication Error

A recent article discussed the tendency of pharmacists to deny an error and become defensive in the event of a medication error. Pharmacists and other medical professionals may fear litigation which causes them to treat patients as a threat. As the article noted, taking this approach can alienate patients and ignores the issues that caused the error and any ongoing risks to patients. Thus, the patient may be put at greater risk, and the issues that caused the error may continue. Pharmacists should instead be honest and transparent with patients and evaluate the error. Honesty and transparency facilitate communication, helps to improve systems and puts the safety of patients first.

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Victims of a Maryland medication error may be able to recover financial compensation through filing a civil claim against the people and entities responsible for the medication error, such as a pharmacy or a medical provider. Filing a civil claim against those responsible (generally through a negligence claim) includes investigating, preparing, and filing the claim in court. Some defendants may choose to settle the case, while others may proceed to trial. In a successful claim, a victim may be able to recover a range of damages.

Generally, damages fall into two categories: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are damages with a fixed dollar amount, whereas non-economic damages do not have a fixed value. Examples of economic damages are past and future medical treatment, lost income, transportation costs, and physical therapy treatment. Examples of non-economic damages are pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of companionship, and loss of parental care. Both economic and non-economic damages are considered “compensatory” damages—intended to compensate the victim for the losses the victim suffered. There is a cap on non-economic damages in injury cases in Maryland, though there is no cap on economic damages, and more can be recovered in some instances.

In certain cases, punitive damages are appropriate. Punitive damages are reserved for cases in which the defendant acted with actual malice or with deliberate wrongdoing. They are meant to serve as a punishment for the defendant and as a deterrent for others. At trial, the victim has to prove all of the damages they are claiming. Generally, a plaintiff has to prove all damages under the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, but punitive damages must be proved by the higher standard of “clear and convincing evidence.”

Despite efforts to reduce medication errors in pharmacies and other medical settings, medication errors continue to occur all too frequently. If a person suffers an injury due to a medication error in Maryland, they may be able to obtain monetary compensation through a Maryland medication error lawsuit. Generally, a medication error lawsuit is based on a claim that the prescribing physician, pharmacist, or another medical professional acted negligently.

In a negligent suit, the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, that the defendant failed to meet the applicable standard of care by acting or failing to act in some way, that the plaintiff was injured because of the breach of the standard of care, and that the defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries. A plaintiff must show that it was more likely than not that the defendant’s conduct caused the victim’s injuries. Medication error cases may be difficult to prove, in part because the patient may have been sick before the medication error. For that reason, expert testimony is often required to explain how the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s alleged injuries.

Successful plaintiffs may be able to recover monetary compensation, including past and future medical expenses, lost wages, physical therapy bills, and emotional suffering. If someone dies due to a medication error, family members of the decedent may be able to file a wrongful death claim against the parties responsible for the medication error. Negligence claims are subject to time limits for filing a claim. The general time limit that applies to Maryland negligence claims is three years after the date of the injury, though there are exceptions. If the time limit has passed, the case may no longer be able to be filed. Evidence can also disappear after some time, so acting as quickly as possible is best. The prevalence of medication errors and the devastation it can cause has prompted new efforts to reduce such mistakes, including the introduction of a new technology that uses barcode scans on medications.

Medication errors continue to harm over one million people each year, and between 7,000 to 9,000 are killed each year in the U.S. due to a medication error. Maryland medication errors can occur in multiple care settings, including hospitals, pharmacies, and doctors’ offices. Researchers continue to investigate causes for medication errors and ways to decrease the risk of errors.

A new survey revealed that burnout is very common among hematology/oncology pharmacists. According to the results of the survey, 62 percent of those surveyed reported symptoms of burnout. Factors that contributed to high dissatisfaction at work for the hematology/oncology pharmacists included the quantity of work, workflow disruptions, working many hours per week, and concerns for major medical errors within the past three months.

The leading author of the study explained that burnout is associated with mental and physical symptoms including anxiety, depression, heart disease, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and more. In addition, the author explained the burnout is associated with a higher risk of making a major medical error. Researchers found that hematology/oncology pharmacists with high levels of burnout were four times more likely to think they made a major medication error in the previous 3 months. A shocking 20 percent of survey respondents reported believing to have made a major medication error in the previous three months.

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