Medical malpractice can be caused by various actions or failures to act, but the main cause of medical malpractice will always boil down to medical negligence, which is a health care provider’s failure to exercise the degree of care and skill of the average health care provider who practices the provider’s specialty, taking into account the advances in the profession and resources available to the provider. (Learn more: What is Medical Negligence?)
Administering the wrong medication is one of the leading types of medical malpractice, and we'll cover that topic in this article.
Who Can Be Liable for Administering the Wrong Medication?
Anyone and everyone who is involved with manufacturing, prescribing, and administering medications can be liable for a patient being administered the wrong medication. This includes physicians, nurses, hospitals, the pharmacy departments in the hospitals, pharmacists, and the pharmaceutical manufacturer.
How Physicians and Nurses Can Administer the Wrong Medication
Physicians and nurses can be liable for administering the wrong medication in many different ways. They can simply make a mistake about what medication should be prescribed. They might think that medication A should be prescribed for a certain condition, but in fact the medical literature says that medication B should customarily be prescribed.
Alternatively, they can prescribe the proper medication, but, because of their bad handwriting on the prescription, the pharmacist misreads the prescription and gives the patient the wrong medication.
Physicians and nurses can also wrongfully administer the wrong medication because the box or bottle was mislabeled. This might seem like an accident, but it is negligence. Properly labeling containers of medication is a life and death issue that must be done correctly. Mislabeling a medication container is almost always negligence.
Learn more about Prescription Drug Errors and Medical Malpractice.
Hospital Liability When Physicians and Nurses Administer the Wrong Medication
A hospital can be liable in a wrongful medication case in several different ways. One way is if the medication was administered by a hospital employee. In that case, the hospital is legally responsible for its employee’s negligence under a legal concept known as vicarious liability.
Another way that the hospital can be liable is if the medication was mislabeled in the hospital’s pharmacy. Once again, it would likely be a hospital employee who was negligent, and so the hospital would be on the legal hook for the employee’s negligence. Finally, the hospital itself could be directly liable for failing to establish proper pharmacy and medication safety protocols.
If a pharmacist administers the wrong medication, it is usually because either the pharmacy simply made a mistake and gave the patient the wrong medication or because the medication was mislabeled.
If the pharmacist him/herself mislabeled the medication, it is certainly the pharmacist’s fault. But even if the medication was mislabeled by the manufacturer, it may still be the pharmacist’s fault. All pills are different and different labels stamped on them. Pharmacists are required to have a reasonably good sense of what different pills look like. If a pill doesn’t look right, it is the pharmacist’s job to catch the manufacturer’s error.
Learn more about pharmacist's legal obligations and pharmacy malpractice.
Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Liability
The liability of a manufacturer in a wrongful medication case is usually due to mislabeling. It all starts with the manufacturer. If it mislabels a drug, the pharmacist will hopefully catch the mistake, but, if not, it is the manufacturer’s fault.
Consequences to Patient When Wrong Medication is Given
The impact of a patient's getting the wrong medication can range from inconsequential to fatal, depending on the severity of the patient’s condition and the nature of the medication that was wrongfully administered.
For example, if a patient requires a certain blood thinning medication, but is given a different, but very closely related, blood thinning medication, the effects on the patient might well be minimal. In this type of situation, although the doctor or pharmacy was certainly negligent for giving the patient the wrong medication, the patient luckily suffered minimal if any damages. Because a medical malpractice case requires both negligence and damages, a patient who experienced minimal (if any) negative consequences from receiving the wrong medication would probably not have a medical malpractice case against whoever gave the patient the wrong medication.
But there can be almost innumerable other health conditions for which receiving the wrong medication would be very harmful and dangerous to the patient. In that type of case, the patient’s damages could range from significant to severe, and the patient would certainly have the right to bring a medical malpractice case.