One of the most common forms of nursing home abuse and neglect, medication errors cost facilities across the United States billions of dollars every year and can cause serious, even fatal injury to their residents.
The standard for an “acceptable” medication error rate in nursing and long-term care facilities is 5%. But while some mistakes are to be expected, repeated failures in a facility violate the rights guaranteed by the federal Nursing Home Reform Law, including a dignified existence and access to quality care. Carelessness, shortcuts or deliberate malpractice, like slicing or cutting pills that need to be given whole, or giving a patient too much medication, may also violate their right to self-determination.
Still, prevalence rates are alarming. A 2016 study published by the Journal of American Geriatrics Society concluded that as many as three-quarters of nursing home residents had been administered a potentially inappropriate medication at least once, and between 16% and 27% of residents were subjected to specific medication errors. Similarly, the American Journal of Medicine examined facility medication errors in a 2005 study and concluded that at least 40% were preventable.
Deaths from medication errors seem rare, fortunately, but a risk of underreporting by facilities remains, meaning a full picture of the problem may be obscured by incomplete statistics.
Types of Medication Errors in Nursing Homes
A number of harmful errors can occur in maintaining and administering medications. The most common include:
- Giving patients the wrong medication, including administering an expired drug, a drug that has too weak or too strong of a dose, or giving something prescribed for someone else to another patient.
- Giving a medication using the wrong technique, either by not following instructions for appropriate administration or mixing drugs that shouldn’t interact with each other and can cause harm when given together.
- Failing to monitor or control medications, such as skipping a prescribed dose.
- Incomplete or poor maintenance of medication records, either on purpose to mask a mistake, or through carelessness. This is especially serious, because one caregiver coming in behind the other might use the wrong information in good faith, and an overdose can result.
Protecting Residents from Medication Errors
Inadequate staffing, a common problem in long-term care facilities that contributes to weaker patient safety across the board, increases the likelihood of medication errors. Understaffing frequently correlates with inadequate training, or staff members in a facility handling drugs with only a basic understanding of their functions, risks and administration requirements.
Inadequate communication about a resident, both within the facility or outside of it, can prove dangerous. Nurses and other staff members need open lines of communication about patients, with all care decisions fully and adequately discussed. Doctors, pharmacists and a resident’s loved ones if/when applicable, should also be kept in the loop about doses, medication changes and adverse reactions.
Facilities need to invest in robust recordkeeping systems to improve residents’ safety and care quality. Especially if patients are taking multiple drugs, a clear and accessible record trail needs to be available to all staff members. These records, as well as medicine stocks, need to be regularly checked.
Where they are able, residents themselves also need to exercise their right to be fully informed by participating in medication decisions and actions, including understanding what all of their medications are, how they look, when they are meant to take them and the dosage levels prescribed for them.
What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
Frequent or careless medication errors are entirely unacceptable in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. If a Tennessee resident has been injured or sickened, an experienced nursing home abuse attorney can help a victim or their loved ones navigate through their options, including recovery of damages. Jehl Law Group is here for you when you need us.