Opioids are a major culprit in medication malpractice claims
Opioid prescribing has been the leading cause of medication malpractice claims in recent years, highlighting the challenges physicians continue to face in proper ordering and management of these drugs, according to a new report.
The analysis, by malpractice services provider Coverys, said that events involving opioids accounted for 24% of medication malpractice suits or claims against providers. Opioids represented the most common reason for the suits while anticoagulants were second at 16% and antibiotics were third at 12%.
"What we are seeing is the monitoring and management of patients who are on narcotic-type drugs is not what it should be," said Bob Hanscom, an author of the report and vice president of business analytics at Coverys.
The report looked at roughly 10,000 malpractice claims at Coverys from 2012 to 2016. Medication related claims accounted for 8% of the total claims. The claims or suits were often brought against physicians by family members who lost a loved one to an opioid overdose, Hanscom said.
There are many opportunities for error when a physician prescribes medications like opioids, the report found. About 35% of medication-related claims occurred as a result of an error in the ordering process. Roughly 31% of the claims were a result of errors in the administration of prescription drugs while another 31% of the claims occurred because of mishaps in management and monitoring of drugs.
Physicians must thoroughly assess and educate patients before they order medications, but time constraints often make it hard for doctors to do this well, Hanscom said. "Physicians are jumping over these steps—ordering without taking into account the full clinical scenario," he added.
The complexity of healthcare has also made it hard for doctors to accurately monitor all the medications their patients might be on. "With many patients seeing many doctors in different systems and with multiple medications, it can be hard to keep up," the report said.
Patients might not even be aware of all the medications they are prescribed, the analysis noted.
Thorough communication between patients and physicians is a key way to better manage medications, Hanscom said. He recommends doctors who prescribe opioids routinely follow up with patients and have a plan to take them off the drug after a period of time to avoid dependency.
But widespread public awareness about the opioid epidemic has already encouraged doctors to change practices, he said.
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