Medical errors—including medication errors— have long been a leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. In fact, mistakes made by healthcare providers account for up to 251,000 U.S. fatalities every year, making medical errors the third leading cause of death

Medication-dispensing cabinets are supposed to make it easier, more efficient, and safer for nurses to obtain prescribed drugs for patients. But as technology makes certain aspects of health care easier, is complacency among healthcare workers causing an even steeper rise in medical malpractice?  

What Is an Automated Dispensing Cabinet (ADC)?

Computerized medication-dispensing cabinets, also known as automated dispensing cabinets (ADCs), were first used in hospitals in the late 1980s but weren’t widely adopted until more recently. Since 2008, however, more than 80% of hospitals now use ADCs.  

To utilize an ADC, a nurse or other healthcare provider accesses medication stored in the cabinet by entering authentication information, such as a password or fingerprint. The healthcare provider selects the patient’s name from a list, along with the requested medication for that patient. Once completed, the compartment with that medication opens, quickly and effectively delivering the drug to the requesting provider. 

Risks of Electronic Medication Dispensing Systems

In many ways, ADCs are more secure than traditional medication storage units; authentication is required to access the medication and the unit tracks who requested the drug. 

But despite the numerous benefits of using computerized medication-dispensing systems—including nurses having easier access to life-saving medications and the ability to administer them promptly—there are also deadly risks. 

Overrides and Look-alike Drug Names

After years of using ADCs, some healthcare providers say they have become complacent. This is particularly true since the start of the pandemic. ADCs allow overrides so healthcare providers can gain access to a life-saving drug in an emergency. But the frequent use of override features when the system denies the provider’s initial request has resulted in serious and even tragic mistakes. 

According to Michael Cohen, president emeritus of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, hospital nurses frequently use overrides to obtain medication from ADCs. But nurses say that misuse of overrides often leads to error. Sometimes, these errors can be deadly. Look-alike drug names are also of concern. 

A Fatal Error

One tragic example of how both ADC overrides and look-alike drug names can be deadly occurred four years ago at a Tennessee hospital. A nurse there accidentally withdrew vecuronium, a strong paralyzing drug, from the ADC instead of versed, the sedative the patient was supposed to receive. 

The mistake, which involved multiple overrides of the electronic medication dispensing system, resulted in the 75-year-old patient’s wrongful death. The nurse is now facing criminal charges for reckless homicide and felony abuse and faces up to 12 years in prison. 

Hospitals and healthcare systems everywhere are closely monitoring Vaught’s trial, many fearing they could be held liable for their nurses’ negligence. Despite the long hours they’ve worked before, during, and since the height of the pandemic as well as crowded facilities and rapidly evolving protocols, nurses owe patients a duty of care that doesn’t allow for fatigue, complacency, or professional negligence. 

Contact an Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today

If you or a loved one has been injured by a medication error or medical malpractice, the attorneys at Sommers Schwartz can help. As the pandemic continues to overburden hospitals and healthcare professionals, serious injuries and deaths associated with medical errors are rising. Contact us today for a confidential consultation about your situation. 

Kenneth T. Watkins

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Kenneth T. Watkins

Kenneth T. Watkins is an accomplished trial attorney and Senior Shareholder with Sommers Schwartz. Over the course of his career, he has obtained numerous multimillion-dollar settlements. His achievements include one of the largest seven-digit medical malpractice cases in Macomb County in 2008, and his election to membership in the exclusive Million Dollar Verdict Club.