How Common Are Medication Errors in Nursing Homes?

Millions of families trust the care of their elderly loved ones to a nursing home facility and, in doing so, rely daily on the accuracy and attentive care of the nurses, nurses’ aides, living managers, and other members of the staff. A large majority of the residents at long-term care facilities take prescribed medication to address different health conditions. When medication errors (MEs) occur, the patient may experience a severe reaction or advanced issues relating to their medical condition.


How Often Does This Happen?

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Nursing home medication errors inflict preventable harm on residents and place a significant financial burden on the individuals and their families. According to a report on nursing home MEs published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 16 to 27 percent of nursing home residents experience medication errors. These numbers reveal that medication errors are relatively common.


However, the number of severe illnesses and deaths caused by MEs is relatively low, which may be due to under-reporting or a lack of accountability on the part of the nursing home.


Examples of Nursing Home Medication Errors

a pile of multi colored pills

Nursing home medication errors can cause serious complications or death. Each nursing home must have sufficient staffing and standard protocol to ensure their patients always receive good medical care and supervision.


Illnesses and symptoms of the disease should activate staff to set up timely medical attention, including a physical examination by a doctor, prescription medication, and follow care that complies with the doctor’s instructions. Common examples of medication errors found in long-term care facilities include:


Medication administration: incorrect prescriptions, unclear instructions on the provided prescription, the wrong dosage is given, misreading of the label, overconsumption of prescribed medicine, the patient is given someone else’s medication, or the patient is given expired meds


Improper care: nursing mistakes, understaffing, improperly trained staff, misdiagnosis, unaware of the patient’s medical history, failure to comply with nursing home protocol, misread or incomplete labs, failure to monitor a patient following medication


Medication errors can be severe, involve lengthy hospitalizations, serious complications, or death. Understaffing and inadequately trained nursing home staff may cause medication mistakes like misdiagnosis, wrong dosage, or confusing medications between patients. Medication reactions caused by poor communication, failure to review the patient’s medical history, medication interactions, or known allergies are preventable, and the nursing home may be held financially responsible in a court of law. If a nursing home patient experiences a medicine error, they or their loved ones should contact a reputable nursing home attorney to investigate the matter and determine a potential cause.


How To Prevent Such Events from Happening

getting medicine out of a locked cabinet

The Institute of Safe Medication Practices (ISMAP) advises nursing homes to follow medication safety guidelines to prevent errors. ISMAP advises nursing homes to establish the following standards to avoid nursing home medication errors:


● Verify the patient’s information: name, birth date, age, weight, diagnosis, allergies, current lab results, and vital signs.

● Verify the patient is receiving prescribed medication and the correct dosage

● Medical staff should have access to accurate, current drug information, such as drug webpage, patient profile, administration medication records, protocols, physician orders, or text references.

● Practice open communication between nursing staff, physicians, and pharmacists

● Medication should be in clearly labeled, unit-dose packaging.

● Properly store all medication.

● Decrease access to all in-stock medication.

● Secure access to high-alert medication.

● Efficiently distribute medication.

● Regularly check devices used to administer medication for weakness or failures.

● Ensure ample lighting, minimal distractions, and proper spacing when administering medication.

● Educate staff on new medications.

● Regularly review and update medication-related procedures, policies, and protocols.

● Educate the patients on medication, including the medication’s reason and the name, appearance, dosage, and potential reactions.


Law firms with experienced nursing home lawyers provide invaluable services and advice to victims and their families seeking justice and compensation after a nursing home medication error. Nursing home lawyers understand the complexity of the law. An experienced nursing home lawyer will investigate the claim to determine if there is a valid case and guide the victim step-by-step through the legal process, explain their legal options, and advise them on a recommended course of action.


Final Thoughts


Our elderly are at risk for this type of harm. They are often unaware of what is going on around them, and they may be much more sensitive to medications than younger folk. A variety of underlying conditions could make it even more likely that they will have a bad reaction to medications. There is no excuse for this type of behavior from medical staff – especially when there may be clear warning signs that this could happen. If you or a loved one have suffered complications, hospitalization, or a fatality because of a nursing home medication error, legal representation from a nursing home attorney can help you hold the nursing home or staff member responsible for their actions.


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