Medication errors: An mg of prevention

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Most medication errors are easily avoidable.

Q. I keep hearing stories about doctors who've been sued because of medication errors, and it makes me worry about my own risk. Can you suggest some ways to protect my practice from a lawsuit over a medication mishap?


The most common mistakes include incorrect dosage, prescribing the wrong medication, and failing to monitor the patient for side effects. Another frequent source of trouble is lapses in communication with patients, such as failing to ask about drug allergies, and not emphasizing the importance of reporting side effects.

One frequent source of medication errors is illegible handwriting that creates problems for the pharmacist or the patient.

Another common problem is unapproved uses or doses of certain drugs. While "off-label" prescribing is generally legal and common medical practice, a plaintiff's attorney may try to portray it as a deviation from the prevailing standard of care: "Tell me doctor, isn't it true that you prescribed this drug for a condition that's not approved by the FDA?"

To reduce your risk of a malpractice suit caused by medication errors, follow these recommendations:

The author, who can be contacted at
, is a healthcare attorney in Mt. Kisco, NY, specializing in risk management issues. This department answers common professional liability questions. It isn't intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have a question, please submit it to Malpractice Consult, Medical Economics, 5 Paragon Drive, Montvale, NJ 07645-1742. You may also fax your question to 973-847-5390 or e-mail it to