May 31 , 2017

Impact of Medication Errors on Patients, Healthcare Providers and Hospitals

While it could be the result of systemic issues or plain human error, medication errors can cause severe physical injury and possible death to patients. These preventable mistakes could also cause severe financial, psychological, and emotional stress to the healthcare provider and organisation. In this blog post, we look at some of the negative consequences of medication errors on patients, healthcare providers and hospitals.

1. Patients and Their Family /Relatives / Loved ones

The range of consequences from medication error effects runs from no notable effects to death. In some cases, it can cause a new condition, either temporary or permanent, such as itching, rashes, or skin disfigurement.

Although uncommon, medication errors can result in severe patient injury or death. The loss of a loved one is devastating. The knowledge that their death could have been prevented makes it even harder for the deceased’s friends and family to come to terms with.

2. Healthcare Providers

Doctors or nurses who inadvertently give the wrong medication to patients, or experience a near-miss, could suffer from shame, guilt, and self-doubt. This is referred to as the second victim, and the effect of this syndrome can be life-threatening: a senior nurse committed suicide after she overdosed a fragile baby with 10 times more calcium chloride.

This embarrassment holds healthcare professionals from admitting their mistakes. A study conducted by Pham and his colleagues (2011) indicated that only 3% of healthcare professionals informed their patients about medication error. This prevents any possible personal reconciliation and closure on their error.  It also prevents review and change of the system that allowed the error to happen in the first place.

The patients or patients’ family members may also pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the healthcare professional for negligence. This can affects the healthcare professional’s career advancement and probability to revoke his/her license. Litigation can impose additional emotional toll on the healthcare professionals in addition to the stress from medication error.

3. Hospitals

Patients or patients’ family members could also file a personal injury lawsuit not just on the healthcare provider, but the healthcare institution where the healthcare provider is employed. Legally, hospitals could face huge legal counsel and possible settlement costs. Hospitals may also need to bear the loss of productivity from the staff involved in the error, and the increased cost of unplanned prolonged hospitalisation and treatment of the patients.

Additionally, it could be time-consuming to deal with the errors, investigation, litigation, and settlement. The hospital’s management team may need to spend time and money to investigate and modify policies to minimise future errors. Cumulative medication errors could also affect the hospital’s reputation and re-accreditation.

Possible Strategies

There are many more possible consequences of medication error that have not been discussed in this blog post. However, it is apparent that this all too common mistake is unnecessarily harmful to patients, healthcare providers, and organisations.

There are many strategies that we can implement to minimise this preventable mistake. At the organisation level, it is the management’s responsibility to develop a culture of safety and robust error reporting system in the workplace.

A ‘no-blame’ culture at the workplace is important. Healthcare professionals may not report the errors in the future if too harsh a decision or punishment is take in cases of accidental medication errors. In turn, this will result in a situation where error reporting becomes next to non-existent and a reduction in error reporting in the healthcare industry, which hinders preventive policies and practices from being introduced when needed.

For individual healthcare professionals, it is important to acknowledge the mistake if you find yourself in a situation where a near-miss or medication error has occurred. Report the near-miss and mistake to your reporting supervisor so they can take appropriate actions to ensure patient safety.

It is interesting to know that there are disciplinary actions for cover-ups – a doctor’s license was suspended for 2 years when he falsified a patient’s record to cover up negligence.


Pham, J. C., Story, J. L., Hicks, R. W., Shore, A. D., Morlock, L. L., Cheung, D. S., … & Pronovost, P. J. (2011). National study on the frequency, types, causes, and consequences of voluntarily reported emergency department medication errors. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 40(5), 485-492.

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