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Study looks at causes and rates of drug prescription mistakes

Recently the results of a national study on prescription error rates were released. The researchers focused on over 700,000 painkiller prescriptions that were all in one database. The database keeps track of prescription errors that pharmacists catch and prevent.

Though the purpose of the study was not mentioned in the article, prescription errors can cause serious injury in patients who are prescribed the wrong medication. In some instances negligent errors, such as marking down the wrong dosage or the wrong type of drug, can be fatal.

According to the results of the finding, researchers found two main contributors to high prescription error rates: infrequently prescribed drugs and drugs with similar looking or sounding names.

Researchers looked at each error and evaluated them by looking at several causes such as, but not limited to, dosage calculation errors and lack of drug therapy knowledge. The results showed that 3 out of every 1000 prescriptions had a prescription error. The rate was lower for more serious prescription errors.

Unfortunately, the classification of drug orders that had the highest percentage of potentially serious prescription errors were children's prescriptions. The article does not give any indication as to what specifically was the cause of the high error rates for pediatric drug prescriptions.

This study raises a question: if someone is prescribed the wrong drug or dosage and suffers serious injuries, what sort of compensation are they entitled to? If the injury is due to the negligence of a health care professional, the patient may be entitled to compensation through a medical malpractice suit.

Source: US News: Health online, "Look-and-Sound-Alike Names Account for Many Painkiller Prescription Errors," 01 February 2011

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