Medication errors occur more often than most of us would like to imagine, and many of them are preventable.
In many cases, physicians and other health care professionals who closely monitor patients‘ medications can help to prevent those errors by ensuring that harmful drug interactions don‘t occur.
The term “drug interactions” can refer to many different types of interactions. These include:
-€¢ Drug-drug interactions, which occur when two or more drugs interact and cause unexpected side effects
-€¢ Drug-food/beverage interactions, which occur when drugs interact negatively with food or beverages
-€¢ Drug-condition interactions, which occur when a drug interacts negatively with an underlying health condition
Perhaps more significant than monitoring patients to prevent these harmful drug interactions, health care professionals can ensure that adverse drug reactions don‘t occur by screening patients for medications prior to prescribing additional medications.
If physicians and other health care professionals fail to screen patients for potential drug interactions, they could be liable for any damages sustained as a result. Sadly, it is not uncommon that these dangerous drug interactions lead to very serious injury or death.
What Does Proper Drug Screening Entail?
Proper drug screening is dependent on the circumstances and the patient. There may be issues and circumstances suggesting higher levels of drug screening. At a minimum, drug screening requires proper intake questionnaires and protocols to identify possible drug interaction risks.
Screening can range from a urine test or other drug abuse screening to a physician‘s/medical provider‘s duty to conduct an accurate medical history report for the patient. In certain patients, where the issue is clearly present or should be apparent, a drug abuse screening should be conducted for the detection of the presence of harmful drugs that could lead to harmful interactions with other prescription medications. One such situation is the growing issue of the dangerous interactions between benzodiazepines and opiates, alcohol or other drugs.
For example, the University of Iowa Health Care System provides a manual for its laboratory pathology department that explains how drug abuse screenings can prevent dangerous drug interactions. These screenings should test for the presence of amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cocaine, opiates, and oxycodone among others.
These tests can be very valuable because they can alert health care professionals to a number of drug abuse or misuse dangers including off-label use occurs. Off-label use refers to the use of prescription drugs in ways that haven‘t been approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). These screenings can also detect illegal use of many of these prescription drugs.
It‘s important to know what drugs a patient is using. The concurrent use of opiates and benzodiazepines can have very serious and sometimes fatal consequences. Likewise, benzo use and alcohol is very dangerous. What this means at a minimum is that benzos should not be prescribed to a known alcoholic or opiate addict.
In addition to drug abuse screening, physicians should also be careful when constructing patients‘ medical history records. A report from the National Institute of Health indicates that there is typically a 20 percent error rate in patients‘ medical records. This means that future monitoring of patients‘ health and medical records, no matter how precise and thorough, can‘t prevent all errors. In this case, the careful construction of a patient medical record from the beginning of a physician-patient relationship is extremely important.
Careful screening can prevent a health care professional from unknowingly prescribing medications with known drug interactions. There are many such dangerous interactions and medical providers should be aware them and take necessary precautions to prevent them. The failure to do so with resulting serious injury or death to a patient may well constitute medical malpractice.