Medication mistakes happen in many different ways. A pharmacist or technician might give someone the wrong medicine or the right medication but the wrong dose. A nurse handing out medicine in the hospital might make a mistake during that process. Patients can also make mistakes when taking medicine prescribed to them.
Compared with the oral administration of drugs which can lead to all sorts of human errors, intravenous (IV) drug administration seems safer. Computerized devices ensure the appropriate delivery of the medicine at a controlled rate and can alert nursing staff if an issue occurs during the delivery of the medicine. The patient needs to do nothing, and medical staff simply have to set things up and check in on the patient and IV device occasionally.
Such systems seemed foolproof, but in reality, they can lead to numerous different kinds of administration mistakes.
Almost every kind of medication error can occur with an IV drug
Every form of medication mistake that people associate with pills can also occur with IV drugs. A nurse could attach the wrong bag to someone’s IV unit, giving them a completely wrong drug. They might set the device to deliver the drug too quickly or too slowly.
It’s possible for the pharmacist who compounds the IV fluid to add the wrong medications or get the dosage incorrect. Timing and dosage errors, as well as the delivery of the wrong drug, can directly impact how effective someone’s treatment is. They can also cause dangerous adverse reactions in patients.
How often do IV mistakes really occur?
Like other medication mistakes, IV medication error statistics depend on self-reported information in most cases. Some individuals who suffer IV medication mistakes won’t know to speak up. If their care providers don’t report the issue internally without a patient complaint, no one may ever know that the mistake occurred.
Even with such limitations, researchers found that between 48-53% of IV drug treatments have at least one error involved in their administration. That includes timing errors, which can be very small. However, when you compare the overall error rate of medication mistakes which is between 8% and 25%, it’s clear that IV drug delivery actually carries higher risks of medical mistakes for the patient.
Understanding how medication errors occur and what rights you have as a patient can make it easier to advocate for yourself after an unfortunate medical experience.