Hospital patients and most nursing home residents have extensive medical needs and require professional care. They also typically require multiple medications on a daily basis. The residents and the patients rely on the staff to properly administer these medications. When an error occurs in the administration of a resident’s medications, the damage can be devastating.
Common medication errors include:
- Giving a resident the wrong medication
- Giving the correct medication, but the wrong dosage
- Administering a medication late
- Failing to administer a medication at all
- Failing to monitor a resident for side effects or adverse reactions
- Failure to timely discover the medication error
- Failure to timely notify the physician of the medication error
When a medication error occurs, it is often because the staff or the facility was negligent in some way. For example, if the facility is understaffed—which means the staff on the floor is overworked—medication errors will inevitably occur. Or, the staff may not be adequately trained; an inexperienced nurse is more likely to commit a medication error than an experienced one. Or, there may be a lack of supervision of the floor nurses who are administering the medications. Or, the staff may be agency staff. Agency staff are RNs and LPNs who are employed by an agency and are assigned on a temporary basis to a nursing home when a nursing home employee fails to show up for work on a particular day or there is some other staff shortage. Typically, agency staff knows nothing about the residents they are caring for, and as a result, mistakes occur. Regardless of the cause of the medication error, the consequences to the resident can be catastrophic.
The overmedication of a resident can be particularly egregious. If a resident is overmedicated because he was given the wrong dosage, that’s negligence. If a resident is overmedicated in order to restrain him, that’s not a medication error, that’s intentional. It is a chemical restraint and it should not occur unless medically necessary and ordered by a physician. The trend today, of course, is to avoid the use of restraints, both physical and chemical, whenever possible. But overmedicating residents because it is easier for the staff to care for them should never occur.