In Australia, we have a very high level of healthcare, so medical misdiagnosis and medical negligence claims aren’t too common. But unfortunately, mistakes do still occur. Medication errors are a major cause of claims against medical industry professionals, including surgeons and GPs. In fact, around 15% of all claims against GPs relate to medication errors and prescription errors.
The effects of medication errors on patient health can be damaging and even permanent. In 2017, it was estimated that 230,000 people are admitted to hospital each year after taking incorrect medication types or dosages. These errors also cost our healthcare system around $1.2 billion every year!
If you have suffered harm, injury or worsening of an underlying condition, as the result of a medication error or prescription error, you might be eligible to make a claim for medical malpractice compensation.
However, this is a complex area of law that requires you to prove that a medical professional was negligent in their duty of care – so we recommend getting professional legal advice before you make a claim.
What is a medication error?
A medication error occurs when a patient is prescribed or receives the wrong medication or an incorrect dosage of the right medication. For example, a GP might mix up the names of similar medications or write the wrong dosage on a prescription. They might even misdiagnose a patient and provide the wrong medication as a result.
But it’s not just doctors who cause medication errors. A pharmacist or nurse might misread a doctor’s handwriting on a prescription and provide the wrong medication or dosage. Or attach a label to the wrong box.
Any number of mistakes can cause a medication error, which can injure or harm the patient. Then it becomes medication malpractice. Another problem is that, not only does the patient receive the wrong medication, they aren’t being treated for the actual condition they do have. This could cause a worsening of this condition over time.
Types of medication mistakes
A medication error can be caused by a medical professional providing the wrong medication or the wrong dosage. As mentioned, this could be a one-off mistake due to bad handwriting or incorrect labelling. But it could also be caused by serious systemic issues, which need to be investigated and corrected to ensure they never occur again.
These are just some situations that have led to medication errors in medical negligence or malpractice cases in the past:
Lack of training and supervision for medical professionals who are inexperienced in prescribing medication, especially for older patients or those with complex conditions
Lack of adherence to protocols or lack of access to the information they need to make informed decisions
Exhausted or overworked medical professionals working under time pressures, can easily make mistakes due to a lapse in concentration, especially if they are multitasking
Unfamiliar medical settings or patients, including when medical professionals work in new hospitals or practices with patients they don’t know well enough before prescribing medication for them
Lack of communication or coordination during patient handover, such as when patients are moved between hospitals or healthcare teams
Communication issues with the patient, perhaps if they don’t speak English, have a speech impediment or have a disability, such as hearing impairment.
If you have suffered harm or an injury due to a medication error in any of these circumstances, it’s vital to get legal assistance to get the compensation you deserve but also to fix the systemic problem to prevent others being hurt.
Who is liable for a medication error?
In the medical industry, every medical professional has a duty of care to their patients. This includes pharmacists or chemists, GPs, nurses, anaesthetists, psychiatrists and technicians. Therefore, they are all liable for any medication errors they make.
Before prescribing any medication, your doctor must fully understand your medical history, ask the necessary questions about your lifestyle and any medicines you’re taking, and be fully trained in how different medicines work together.
A pharmacist must check that you know how to take your medication and how much to take. They must also check the doctor’s prescription for any issues.
How do you know if you can make a claim?
It’s important to note that you can’t necessarily make a compensation claim just because a medication or prescription mistake has occurred. Your claim needs to meet all of these criteria to be considered medical negligence:
- You had a doctor-patient relationship with the medical professional. They treated and diagnosed you, and prescribed the medication to you.
- Another medical professional with the same skill level would not have taken the same action, made the same error or misdiagnosed you.
- The medical professional was negligent in some way. They didn’t demonstrate the skill, knowledge, training or behaviour of a professional in their field.
- The medical professional’s negligence led to harm, an injury or a worsening of the underlying condition you were being treated for.
This final criteria is essential. If the medication or prescription error didn’t cause any harm or injury, you may not be able to claim compensation.
Additionally, the case may get complex if the healthcare professional was not entirely negligent or at fault and you contributed in some way to your injury or condition.
For example, they might argue that you didn’t tell them about allergies to medication, pregnancy, illness, or other medication you were taking at the time, which caused the negative outcome. (Although they may not have asked you the right questions to get these answers, which is their responsibility as your medical professional.)
They might argue that you weren’t taking the medication as prescribed, perhaps skipping doses or taking too much. In this case, you might also be partly responsible for the negative outcome.
As you can see, these medical negligence cases are very complex, so we recommend getting legal assistance to help you determine whether you have a case and how much compensation you may be eligible for. At Main Lawyers, our medical negligence lawyers have years of experience in these types of cases.
What compensation you can get
No two medication error compensation claims are the same and each one has different complexities. So the amount of compensation you may receive will depend on factors such as:
- the type and severity of your injury or condition, and how it will affect your quality of life in future
- to what extent did the medical professional’s actions, inactions or negligence cause the harm.
If you are eligible to make a medical negligence claim, you may be compensated for:
- your pain and suffering
- medical and other expenses, both current and future
- income that you have lost and will lose in future, including superannuation benefits
- home cleaning or nursing assistance you will need, either paid or provided by friends and family
- medical aids and equipment required, including walkers, crutches and wheelchairs
- home modifications for accessibility, such as handrails and ramps
- vehicle modifications
- legal costs and disbursements.
After examining your case, our medical negligence lawyers can give you a better idea of what you might be able to receive in your case.
Who pays for medical negligence compensation?
In Australia, every medical practitioner is required to have professional indemnity insurance, which covers them for these types of claims. It might cover their legal costs and any damages awarded to you. Therefore, your compensation is more likely to be paid by their insurance company rather than the individual doctor, practice or hospital.
How can Main Lawyers help?
The area of medical negligence, particularly relating to medication and prescription errors, is complicated and requires thorough investigation. It is definitely not something you should take on by yourself, especially if you’re unwell and trying to recover.
At Main Lawyers our medical malpractice lawyer will work on your behalf to gather all the evidence you will need to prove your case. This includes documentation like medical records and forms, statements from medical staff, and the opinion of an independent medical professional.
We will also make sure you meet the necessary time frames for making a claim. For example, in Queensland, you have three years from when the injury or harm occurred to make a claim for medication or prescription error. So you should start as early as possible.
The good news is that we operate on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, so you won’t need to pay any legal fees unless you receive compensation or a settlement. First, we will meet with you – either in our office or in your home if you can’t travel – to learn the details and investigate do you have a medical negligence claim..
Ready to start?
You have a right to the highest level of care and professionalism when you need medical assistance. In Australia, we are fortunate to have high-quality care, but sometimes things can go wrong.
If you have suffered an injury or harm due to a medication or prescription error, start by having a chat with our friendly team of legal professionals today!