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Medication errors abound in nursing homes

The number of elderly people in the United States has grown exponentially in recent years. This has caused an increase in the number of people living in nursing homes. Many of them require medications in order to control both acute and chronic ailments.

The problem is that the number of medication errors in nursing homes is far higher than anyone would like. It's possible that your loved one will be a victim of this type of error.

The perfect storm

Nursing home residents constitute a vulnerable population due to numerous factors. Their lives are often in the hands of those you trust to care for your loved one. A mixture of the following circumstances regarding residents and nursing homes increases the potential for medication mistakes:

  • Functional impairments
  • Cognitive defects
  • Limited monetary resources
  • Numerous chronic ailments
  • Numerous medication requirements
  • The need for significant assistance daily
  • Lack of physician presence in nursing homes
  • Lack of financial incentives for nursing home improvements

When these factors combine, the staff at nursing homes may be overworked, underpaid and may lack the knowledge, oversight and time to properly administer the medications your love one needs.

The nature of the mistakes

Most of the medication errors made in nursing homes should not even happen. In fact, an alarming 40 percent of the mistakes were preventable, according to one study. Adverse drug events occur most often when doctors order medications and fail to monitor the patients thereafter. Those most at risk were prescribed the following pharmaceuticals:

  • Anticoagulants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antiepileptic medications
  • Diuretics

If your loved one takes warfarin, he or she is especially at risk. The risk can threaten your loved one's life. Approximately 60 percent of the serious adverse events that occur for those who take warfarin should not have happened.

Doctors and nurses may not communicate

In many cases, the telephone is the communication medium between nurses at the home and doctors or nurse practitioners. The conversations may be brief and the potential for miscommunication is high. Instructions regarding drug interactions, information on medical conditions and results of laboratory tests may never make it to the nursing home staff.

The doctor prescribing the medication may not have all the relevant information to make an informed decision regarding a prescription. These factors put your loved one at risk and invite a mistake that could cause significant harm.

What happens if health care providers make a mistake?

Our elders deserve the best care possible in the later years of their lives. When your loved one doesn't receive that care, it can have devastating results. You may do what you can to protect your loved one, but it may not be enough. Holding the nursing home accountable for its failings may be at least part of the answer and could save another resident and his or her family from the same fate.

If your aging family member suffered adverse health consequences due to a medication mistake, it may help to know your legal options. Once your loved one is safe, you could sit down with a Texas attorney to determine what happens next. In many cases, an investigation could reveal where the system broke down. In addition to initiating complaints, you may be able to seek compensation and justice for your loved one.

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