As patients we all have the fundamental right to receive effective treatment from our health care providers in the safest manner possible. Medication is one of the most common forms of treatment used by health care providers. However, medication errors are common in general practice and are particularly prevalent in hospitals around New South Wales. Both errors in the act of writing and prescribing the wrong medication can lead to significant harm to patients and may sometimes result in death.

What is a medication error?

Medication error is defined as:

“A medication error is any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer. Such events may be related to professional practice, health care products, procedures, and systems, including prescribing, order communication, product labelling, packaging, and nomenclature, compounding, dispensing, distribution, administration, education, monitoring, and use.”

Causes of medication errors

Medication errors occur due to the following:

  • Lack of therapeutic training by health care professionals.
  • Inadequate drug knowledge and experience.
  • Inadequate knowledge of patient.
  • Overworked or fatigued health care professionals.
  • Lack of standardised protocols and procedures.
  • Insufficient resources.

Electronic Medication Management System

A key element in reducing the prevalence of medical errors is through the electronic medication management system (“EMM”).

EMM has been introduced in hospitals around New South Wales to try to eliminate the risk of prescribing and/or administering the incorrect medication to patients.

The purpose of introducing EMM is to enable the prescription, supply and the administration of medication electronically with an aim in reducing errors made with providing the wrong medication to patients.

EMM is designed with a view to cover the entire hospital medication cycle including the initial stage of prescription by the treating doctor, reviewing and dispensing of the medication order by the pharmacists, and the administration of the medication by the nurses on duty.


Another key element in eliminating further medication errors from occurring is through the use of education. Educating health care providers will help to reduce the incurrence of errors and will provide patients with the peace of mind that their treating practitioners are aware of the consequences of making such mistakes.

Medication review and reconciliation

 Implementing a medication review with your treating practitioner on a scheduled basis can ensure that your medication is evaluated in order to improve your health outcomes and mitigate the drug-related problems associated with taking unnecessary medications.

Medication reconciliation is the formal process of establishing and documenting a list of the medications you have taken across transitions of your care and then rectifying any discrepancies with your treating practitioners.

This process will allow you to know and understand what medications you have been prescribed and have been taking throughout your treatment process.

Reasons for change

The EMM was introduced to improve medication safety. In 2009, the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission’s final report stated that:

  • Around 2-3% of hospital admissions are medicine related.
  • Around 10% of patients attending general practice experience adverse drug events.
  • Medication error rates are particularly high in elderly people, and during transfer of care between hospital and community settings.
  • An estimated 52-88% of transfer documents contain an error.

Case Study

A tragic example of a prescription error has left a man dead at a Sydney hospital after he was given another patient’s medication following routine knee surgery.

Mr Paul Lau died in June 2015 from a drug overdose after he was mistakenly given the medication of another patient who had a more complex condition. His treating anaesthetist incorrectly entered the details of much stronger pain medication meant for another patient.

Seeking Advice

Medical negligence cases are not simple and often require considerable investigation by experienced legal professionals. If you or someone you know has suffered a medical injury due to the negligence of a medical professional, you may be entitled to compensation.

For more information, please call Stacks Goudkamp on 1800 251 800 to arrange a free, no-obligation assessment of your claim, or alternatively, make an online enquiry.

Written by Reham Samaan.

Reham Samaan is a solicitor in Julie Mahony’s Practice Group. Reham works on a variety of different compensation matters, with a particular focus on medical negligence claims.