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Medication Errors Cause Harm to Nursing Home Residents

An elder's hand with needle at nursing home

Medication errors are a common problem in nursing home facilities around the country. Although medication errors also occur frequently in hospitals, the rate of error is much higher in nursing home facilities, affecting as many as one in five patients. In Illinois, a nursing home abuse attorney Woodstock commonly represents residents who have been harmed by medication errors.

Medication Errors and Adverse Drug Effects

Medication errors can cause adverse drug effects in patients. Many medication errors are minor, but errors that cause adverse drug effects can cause serious harm. Adverse drug effects such as harmful drug interactions and overdosing can lead to serious, long-term health problems, especially in elderly patients. Serious health consequences of medication errors include: incontinence, dehydration, malnutrition, delirium, changes in behavior, and falls and fractures.

Health problems caused by medication errors are costly for nursing home residents, their families, and the facilities. Residents often suffer long-term organ damage that requires expensive medical treatment and new medications. Nursing home facilities get hit with an estimated cost of $7.6 billion each year caused from medication errors and adverse drug reactions in patients.

Common Causes of Medication Errors

Medication errors commonly occur during three different ways - prescribing, monitoring, and administration. In Illinois nursing homes, elderly patients regularly take a number of different drugs simultaneously, so it's not uncommon for a nursing home abuse attorney Woodstock to see frequent medication errors.

Prescription Errors - Prescribing the wrong medication or dose accounts for 63 percent of prescribing errors, while drug interactions account for 22 percent. When elderly patients take numerous prescription drugs at the same time, drug interactions are often overlooked by doctors.

Monitoring Errors - Nursing home caregivers have a responsibility to monitor residents' medications, dosages, and adverse drug effects. One of the leading causes of monitoring errors is the failure to respond, or responding too late to signs of drug toxicity.

Administration Errors - Administration errors can be prevented if caregivers pay attention and strictly adhere to prescription instructions. If an error occurs, the nursing home facility or caregiver should immediately contact the physician and stop administering the medication. Administration errors can result from a variety of caregiver mistakes including:

  • Under dosing or overdosing of medication

  • Incorrect duration or frequency of medication

  • Expired or incorrect medication

  • Inappropriate crushing or slicing of medication

  • Inadequate use of fluids

  • Incorrect administration of nutritional fluids

  • Improper food and/or antacid ingestion with medication

Medication errors are not always caused by incorrect medications. Adverse effects often occur by improperly using the right medication. If a patient takes the wrong amount of the right medication, a range of adverse effects can occur. Some of the most common medications that are administered incorrectly include sedatives; painkillers; antihistamines; blood thinners; antidepressants; and antipsychotics. A nursing home abuse attorney Woodstock witnesses intentional medication errors in some nursing home facilities. In some cases, medications are administered incorrectly by caregivers intentionally trying to sedate patients or steal certain medications.

Prevention of Medication Errors

To improve medication safety in nursing home facilities, researchers suggest enhanced communication procedures, improved approaches to handling medications, and computerized provider order entry systems with sophisticated support systems that incorporate relevant clinical patient information. Structured communication strategies, including the use of SBAR to improve telephone discussions between nursing home staff and off-site prescription providers show special promise for improving medication safety.

The nursing home setting provides a complex set of challenges for providing safe and high-quality care to a vulnerable patient population. Circumstances place elderly Illinois nursing home residents at special risk for preventable medication errors and drug-related injuries seen by a nursing home abuse attorney Woodstock. Adverse drug reactions are common in nursing home residents, yet at least 40 percent are preventable. Residents who take multiple medications in several drug categories are typically at higher risks for adverse drug reactions. Nursing home residents face greater health and injury risks due to:

  • Multiple chronic medical conditions

  • Functional impairment and cognitive deficits

  • Lack of economic resources and family support

  • Taking large doses and/or multiple medications

According to the U.S.. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly half of all nursing home residents require extensive assistance with at least four out of five daily activities such as dressing, eating, toileting, bed mobility, and transferring. Nearly 70 percent of nursing home residents are reported to have some type of functional impairment and/or cognitive deficit, and one-third have severe bladder and bowel incontinence. In most nursing home facilities, there is little physician involvement. Caregivers are typically nurses and nursing home aides with minimal training. These combined factors make the nursing home environment one of the most complicated and challenging clinical settings in medicine and place elderly nursing home residents at substantial risk for injury, illness and nursing home abuse and neglect.


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