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Healthcare-less: medication mistakes often kept secret

"Everyone makes mistakes" is a phrase that everyone is familiar with. Truly, mistakes are made by workers in every profession, from an honest accident to a glaring, dangerous disregard for regulations and caution. The means of making up for these mistakes are also widely known: claiming responsibility, taking quick action to make things right, and learning from one's error(s) are all means of correcting a mistake.

In some fields of life, however, any mistake at all can be a serious matter demanding quick and comprehensive action. New research finding s released this month have shown that hospital medication mistakes are not only taking place at an alarming rate-they are also going frequently unreported. Both in Louisiana and across the nation, patients and their families are being left in the dark when a nurse, technician, specialist, or doctor's error leads to inappropriate medication.

Mistakes in medication that were particularly harmful to patients were found to be occurring primarily in intensive care units (ICUs). Perhaps even more troubling is the discovery that those ICU patients who had received wrongful medication were less likely to be notified of the hospital's mistake when compared to other, less serious patients.

In a collection of roughly 840,000 reports from 537 American hospitals, ICU errors accounted for 56,000 (roughly 6.6 percent) of medication errors. From 1999-2005, 18 medication errors led to patients' death in ICUs, while 92 non-ICU patients died from medication mistakes in the same period. Most often the mistakes were ones of omission, in which prescribed and needed medication was never administered to a patient.

More often than not, the study has shown, no immediate action is taken as a result of these errors. Patients are not notified, and the families of those who may be in intensive care and critical conditions are kept in the dark about the hospital's blunder(s). Such mistakes, and the rampant disregard for patients' awareness of them, show a harrowing disregard for transparency and respect by healthcare workers. For patients who have been hurt by this and other forms of medical malpractice, the help of an attorney can begin the road to restitution.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Patients rarely told about medication errors," Andrew M. Seaman, Jan. 11, 2013

• No medical mistake is minor or unimportant when so much is at stake. For more information, contact our Lake Charles malpractice law page.

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