One-third of adults in the United States take five or more medications. The definition of adverse drug events includes any harms a patient experiences as a result of taking medication. Although ADEs account for only about 100,000 hospitalizations each year, they are still one of the most common inpatient errors, affecting about 5 percent of patients in hospitals. According to the Patient Safety Network, not every ADE is an error, nor does it indicate poor quality of care. However, when there is an actual error, it is generally preventable.

Medication errors typically occur at different steps along the pathway from prescription to the administration of the medication. From the time the doctor orders it through the dispensation by the pharmacist and the time the patient receives the medication, errors can occur. The majority of errors occur at the prescribing stages, and hospitals and pharmacies have a lot of safety protocols in place to prevent errors.

Are patients responsible for medication errors?

Patients may not be able to prevent all errors, but one step you can take is to be proactive in your own care. Ask your doctor about the medications prescribed to you. Talk about medication interactions and tell your doctor all the other medications and supplements you take. When you pick up a prescription, take your time and ask the pharmacist the same questions. Pharmacists have a lot of medical training and are doctors in their own right. If you receive medication in the hospital, ask the nurse what it is for.

If you believe you were the victim of a medication error, you might want to talk to a lawyer experienced in medical malpractice claims. It can be difficult to determine where the protocols to prevent an error went wrong. You may need an advocate to present your case effectively to hold the responsible parties accountable.