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Risk of Medication Errors After Hospital Discharge

Most patients are relieved to get out of the hospital. However, studies confirm that the risk of medication error can actually increase after patients are discharged.

The problem is that home health agencies, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes, which are charged with helping patients continue to get better, often miss potential medication errors. As detailed in a recent Kaiser Health News article, the mistakes can be deadly.

Within two weeks of being discharged from the hospital, Joyce Oyler developed sores in her mouth and throat, and blood began seeping from her nose and bowels. Instead of taking a drug to prevent fluid retention related to her congestive heart failure, she had been taking a toxic drug with a similar name that is used to treat cancer and severe arthritis.

“I gathered all her medicine, and as soon as I saw that bottle, I knew she couldn’t come back from this,” said Oyler’s daughter, Kristin Sigg, an oncology nurse. “There were many layers and mistakes made after she left the hospital. It should have been caught about five different ways.”

Unfortunately, medication errors are one of the most common complications after hospital discharge. Even more concerning, a Kaiser Health News analysis of inspection records found that the mistakes are frequently missed by home health agencies.

Kaiser found that, between January 2010 and July 2015, Medicare inspectors flagged 3,016 home health agencies that had inadequately reviewed or tracked medications for new patients. In some cases, nurses failed to realize that patients were taking potentially dangerous combinations of drugs, putting them at risk for abnormal heart rhythms, bleeding, kidney damage, and seizures.

In the case of Joyce Oyler, the subsequent investigation into the fatal medical error revealed that mistakes were made by several people involved in her care. The pharmacy technician likely transcribed the medications incorrectly, and then the pharmacist failed to detect that two similarly sounding drugs had been confused. Later, the home health aide, who was supposed to match Oyler’s medications against those prescribed by the hospital, also failed to discoverer the deadly mix-up.

“Most people don’t know this is a problem,” Sigg said. “They assume doctors are talking to each other until they experience it, and it’s not the case.”

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to medication error or serious hospital discharge mistake, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.