Nearly Two-Thirds of American Adults Take 5 or More Medications
As 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are 242,470,820 adults living in the United States, and a new study says that 62% are regularly taking five or more medications. That’s a lot of pills, inhalants, drops, elixirs, ointments, and suppositories.
When someone has a serious reaction, becomes ill, or dies because of a medication it could be an error by the patient, a mistake by the physician, a mix-up by the pharmacist, or a defect in the medication itself. The terminology for these events varies, but the government has decided the general term is Adverse Drug Events, or ADEs.
It’s important that when an ADE occurs, and it’s serious or life threatening, that the cause be determined. Sometimes it is negligence or malpractice on the part of the medical professional involved. These people and, in the case of pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies, companies, need to be held accountable to the victims who suffer as a result of their errors.
ADEs account for nearly 700,000 emergency department visits and 100,000 hospitalizations each year. ADEs affect nearly 5% of hospitalized patients, making them one of the most common types of inpatient errors; ambulatory patients may experience ADEs at even higher rates. Transitions in care are also a well-documented source of preventable harm related to medications.
Another term you may not be aware of is Polypharmacy—taking more medications than clinically indicated. This is likely the strongest risk factor for ADEs. Elderly patients, who take more medications and are more vulnerable to specific medication adverse effects, are particularly vulnerable to ADEs. Pediatric patients are also at elevated risk, particularly when hospitalized, since many medications for children must be dosed according to their weight. Other well-documented patient-specific risk factors include limited health literacy and numeracy (the ability to use arithmetic operations for daily tasks), both of which are independently associated with ADE risk.
This is a table that identifies potential places where ADEs can happen and safety strategies:
|Prescribing||•Avoid unnecessary medications by adhering to conservative prescribing principles|
|•Computerized provider order entry, especially when paired with clinical decision support systems|
|•Medication reconciliation at times of transitions in care|
|Transcribing||•Computerized provider order entry to eliminate handwriting errors|
|Dispensing||•Clinical pharmacists to oversee medication dispensing process|
|•Use of “tall man” lettering and other strategies to minimize confusion between look-alike, sound-alike medications|
|Administration||•Adherence to the “Five Rights” of medication safety (administering the Right Medication, in the Right Dose, at the Right Time, by the Right Route, to the Right Patient)|
|•Barcode medication administration to ensure medications are given to the correct patient|
|•Minimize interruptions to allow nurses to administer medications safely|
|•Smart infusion pumps for intravenous infusions|
|•Patient education and revised medication labels to improve patient comprehension of administration instructions|
Note that the largest section of the table is “Administration” which is where the patient and his or her caregivers are most-directly involved. This is where the drugs contact the patient.
If a patient is unable to properly count the pills and understand when to take them, then someone must help that person. Almost everyone has been aware of a family member or friend who is in this situation. Please try to help them or find them the help they need.
If a family member, other loved one, or friend is the victim of an ADE, it’s important to contact the right people for help. Medication errors that cause harm is an arena in the legal profession that requires experience and expertise due to the complexity of the pharmaceutical industry and the various medical professions.
The Law Firm of Lazarus and Lazarus has dedicated a substantial portion of their legal practice to pharmacy errors and negligence. Calling 954-356-0006 will put you in touch with a dedicated team of legal professionals who can help.