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The costs of medication errors

Medication errors cost about $20 billion annually.  This is just one of the findings reached by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics in their report, Avoidable Costs in the U.S. Healthcare:  The $200 Billion Opportunity from Using Medicines More Responsibly.  These medication errors are found every step along the way of administering drugs, from writing of the prescription to monitoring the effect of the medication.  The IMS found sloppy handwriting led to patients getting the wrong drug or the wrong dose.  Doctors also fail to check to see if their patient is getting better, thus they fail to discover that their patient is receiving the right medicine.  The full report can be viewed at

Insulin and warfarin (Coumadin, a blood thinner) are the most common medications prescribed that lead to hospitalizations caused by incorrect administration.  An insulin overdose can lead to insulin shock, or severe acute hypoglycemia.  This is a medical emergency because it can lead to permanent brain damage if it is not treated in a timely manner.  A warfarin overdose can lead to fatal bleeds.  See my web page for a more thorough discussion of medication errors and malpractice:  /Medical-Malpractice/Drug-Overdose-Medication-Errors.shtml

This $20 billion price tage only counts the cost medication errors has on the health care system, namely, the cost of hospital admissions and the costs of doctor visits.  The real costs to patients who have suffered a medication error are much higher.  In addition to the medical bills, there can be lost income, and if a patient suffered permanent brain injury, there can also be caretaking expenses, adaptive equipment, adaptive vehicles, and home remodeling.  These costs, still, are only what the law considers 'out-of-pocket' expenses.  The intangible costs include pain and suffering, disfigurement, and loss of normal life.  These are considered 'non-economic' damages.  

The good news is that some of these medication errors are on the decline as more doctors are using electronic prescriptions.  

If you want to know about a drug that has been prescribed to you, there are many websites available.  The one I use most often is  The site includes a PATIENT tab you can select to read about the drug in less medical terms.

If you think you have been injured by a medication or prescription error, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney.  Asking is free.

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