Medical errors are an unfortunate reality of the current healthcare landscape. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical staff are human, and therefore have the potential to make mistakes in providing care from time to time. Throughout the world, hospitals and healthcare practices take steps to prevent medical errors from happening, including advanced training in safe treatment techniques and enhanced communication with patients and their families. However, a growing number of healthcare systems face challenges when it comes to providing the highest quality care due to staffing shortages, diminishing funding, and a patient load that induces exhaustion and, ultimately, oversight.
Errors in medical practice are inevitable in both adult and child patient populations, but mistakes have a greater chance of resulting in life-changing effects for minor patients. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that medical errors are one of the leading causes of death and injury among children in the United States, with the most damaging involving mistakes made with the prescription and administration of medication. These errors can take place in a primary care setting, a clinic, a hospital, or a specialist’s office, and the long-term outcome can be devastating to the child and the parents alike. However, medication errors that threaten the viability of a child’s well-being can be thwarted by parents who take certain steps to prevent the mistakes from taking place.
Being Involved in the Process
A representative from a specialist team of medical negligence in the UK explains that medication errors fall in the top three mistakes made in pediatric medicine, adding to the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of meningitis and appendicitis. “Medication errors constitute more than 5% of pediatric malpractice cases, with physicians at fault 69% of the time, nurses 13% of the time, and pharmacies 8% of the time.” With the high propensity for medication mistakes for young patients, parents have no choice but to be involved in the process of diagnosis, treatment, and medicine administration to the fullest extent.
Taking an active part in a child’s healthcare starts with understanding the diagnosis plaguing the child, and followed closely by understanding why a certain medication is prescribed to treat the issue. Parents can – and should – feel confident with the doctor’s explanation of the problem and the implications of taking a certain medication over an alternative course of treatment. Research shows that parents who are involved in the healthcare of a child experience more positive outcomes, and the potential for medication mistakes is reduced when parents play an active role in making healthcare decisions.
A common issue found within the healthcare system involves a lack of clear, helpful information passed down from doctors and nurses to the parents of a child in need of medical care. Medical providers are often stretched thin with high patient caseloads, overextended working hours, and lacking procedures for sharing vital information with patients and their caregivers. Although some healthcare systems have created initiatives to reduce these pressing issues among providers, parents of minor children have the potential to experience poor communication given these constraints.
In order to avoid miscommunication relating to the healthcare of a child that could lead to medication mistakes, parents must recognize their right to accurate, concise communication with a child’s healthcare provider. No matter how rushed or distracted a doctor or nurse may seem, a parent should feel comfortable sharing information about the child’s condition, concerns about a prescribed medication, or a lack of improvement after a medication has been administered. However, the communication need flows in both directions. Avoiding medication errors requires parents to provide pertinent details about the child’s other medications, diet, activities, or supplements. Adverse reactions can take place when these details are not shared from the beginning.
Medications can be difficult to understand, and so it is necessary for parents to ask questions when an aspect of a prescription is unclear. Common questions often include how a medication might interact with other medicines or activities, what side effects may be a cause for concern, or how long it may take to see an improvement in the child’s condition. Because medication mistakes are commonly linked to errors in administration, parents must also clarify any dosage requirements and methods for giving the medication to the child prior to starting treatment.
Each of these steps has the potential to reduce the possibility of a devastating medication error in a minor patient. Parents must feel confident that the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist has provided accurate information in a way that is easy to understand, and they have a responsibility to share with the provider any details that may impede or alter treatment. Medication mistakes are avoidable when both parents and providers are proactive in preventing them.