My doctor prescribed the wrong medication. Is it malpractice?

If your doctor prescribes you the wrong medication and it ends up causing you harm, you could have a valid claim for medical malpractice. But these kinds of cases are very complex from both a legal and medical standpoint.

A doctor is only liable if he or she is the one who actually made the mistake -- not someone else, such as the pharmacist or the drug manufacturing company. This can be a pretty complex detail to prove. And, like any medical malpractice action, in order for the lawsuit to be viable, you have to prove that the doctor’s actions actually amounted to medical negligence. In the sections that follow, we'll discuss medical negligence in the context of these kinds of cases, and we'll provide some examples of when a doctor might be liable for prescribing the wrong medication to a patient.

Proving Medical Negligence

Proving liability in this kind of medical malpractice lawsuit means proving that the doctor was negligent in prescribing you a certain medication. To do that, you need to establish:

  • what the medical standard of care was under the circumstances
  • how your doctor deviated from that standard, and
  • how you were harmed as a result.

The medical standard of care is the first thing that needs to be established, usually by an expert witness with experience in the same medical field as your doctor. The medical standard of care is often defined as the type and level of care that a health care professional with the same training and experience would provide under similar circumstances in the same community. This is the yardstick against which you measure the propriety of your doctor's decision to prescribe the medication in question, and his or her conduct in connection with that decision.

Next, you would need to show (again, usually with the testimony of an expert witness) precisely how your doctor failed to meet that standard of care when treating you. What exactly did your doctor do (or fail to do) that was not in line with the proper course of conduct under the circumstances?

Finally, you have to be able to prove that the medication actually caused you some kind of injury -- it caused you new health problems, or made existing health problems worse, in other words. And practically speaking, any injury probably needs to be significant enough to justify your taking the time (and your attorney's time) and going to the expense of filing a lawsuit against your doctor.

Examples of Medical Malpractice: Prescribing the Wrong Medication

There are many ways in which a doctor could make a mistake in prescribing medication. Here are a few of the most common examples:

  • The doctor prescribes the wrong dosage.
  • The doctor provides incorrect instructions for taking the medication.
  • The doctor prescribes the medication for the wrong amount of time.
  • The doctor prescribes a medication which contains an ingredient to which the patient is allergic.
  • The doctor prescribes medication that has a dangerous interaction with one of the other medications that the patient is taking.
  • The doctor prescribes a medication that will harm the patient because of the patient’s other underlying medical conditions.
  • The doctor prescribes a medication that is ineffective and causes the patient’s underlying and untreated condition to worsen.
  • The doctor fails to relay a drug manufacturer’s warning of risks and side effects to the patient, which is needed in order for the patient to make an informed decision.

It's important to note that medication-related mistakes can be made almost anywhere in the supply chain from manufacturer to patient. For example, the drug manufacturer could produce a tainted or unreasonably dangerous medication. A nurse could administer the wrong dosage or drug. A pharmacist could fill out the prescription incorrectly. Or, the patient may bear some amount of fault for not giving the doctor an accurate medical history (e.g., failing to inform the doctor about known allergies or other underlying medical conditions) that would conflict with the medication. In such situations, the doctor may not be liable at all for the patient’s injury.

If you believe that you were prescribed the wrong medication, you should consult with a medical malpractice attorney as early as possible. Medical malpractice claims, like all lawsuits, are subject to a strict filing deadline known as a statute of limitations.

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