PTCB Test Prep Therapeutics

Top 10 Medication Errors and How to Avoid Them!

May 6th, 2020
medication errors

How Common Are Medication Errors?

Pharmacy technicians and pharmacists work together to ensure that patient safety and therapeutic outcomes are maximized. Of course, the corollary of this is that medication errors must be avoided.

Statistically, though, this has shown not to be possible. Studies show that 7,000-9,000 people die as a result of medication errors.  

Each year, medication errors are made – some small, others dangerous. As a prospective pharmacy technician, your role is to reduce these errors in their entirety. Whilst statistically-speaking, errors do occur – that is no reason to be complacent in your professional duty.

Below, we review the top 10 medication errors. Some occur in the pharmacy, whereas others are experienced by the patient when they reach home, or further down the line. No matter how insignificant the error may seem, it must be avoided.

After all, you can never be sure about the consequences of your actions until that consequence is translated into reality – and a patient’s therapeutic outcome has been compromised.

Causes of Medication Error

Here are the top reasons for medication error in the United States:

  • Distractions – almost three-quarters of medication errors have been attributed to distractions. Lapses in judgment can occur when healthcare professionals are busy and attempt to get through as much work as possible.
  • Ineligible writing – often, healthcare professionals cannot effectively read what is written on prescriptions. If the patient requires emergency medicine, this can prove to be a very dangerous mistake. Pharmacy abbreviations and acronyms can sometimes add to the confusion.
  • Omissions – medication omissions occur when the ordered dose for the patient is not administered.
  • Wrong time – medications must be administered at the correct time. The therapeutic effects of a drug depend on administering the drug at the right time, and not too early nor too late. This is particularly true for narrow-therapeutic index (NDI) drugs.
  • Unauthorized medicines – it’s not uncommon for medicines prescribed and dispensed to one patient are given to a second person at home. This may be the case, for example, where a relative or friend at home experiences similar symptoms to the patient, and so assumes the same medicine will assist. This is an example of the unauthorized use of medicine.
  • Incorrect dose – patients must be prescribed the dose as stated by the physician. The dose should not be higher or lower than this value. Again, with narrow therapeutic index drugs, a small difference in dose can result in a big change in therapeutic outcomes – often damaging to the patient.
  • Incorrect preparation – similarly, one of the most common medication errors is for patients to be given the wrong medicine preparation. For example, this includes using the wrong type of water when preparing reconstituted products in the pharmacy. It can also occur if bacteriostatic water for injections is incorrectly used in place of sterile water for injections.
  • Incorrect administration technique – this occurs when a medicine is not correctly administered to the patient. For example, when administering a drug via the subcutaneous route, injecting too far into the skin means that the medicine is not reaching its target site. Similarly, using an IV route of administration rather than an infusion pump.
  • Expired medicines – as a pharmacy technician, it is incumbent upon you to ensure that patients do not receive expired medicines. Inventory management and stock control are very important for this reason. Expired medicines can cause damage to patients. For example, expired tetracycline antibacterial drugs can cause Fanconi syndrome in affected patients.
  • Inadequate monitoring – it’s important for pharmacies to keep stock of drug monitoring for patients. This means keeping adequate stock and ensuring the patient has access to medicine when they need it. It also means that drugs should be ordered at the correct time – and the shipments verified once delivery has been made.

By addressing these top medication errors, the pharmacy technician ensures that errors are not only minimized – but reduced entirely.


During the PTCB examination, you can expect questions on medication errors – both in terms of how to identify errors and how to prevent these errors from arising.

It’s imperative, therefore, that you study this section in tandem with every other part of the PTCB syllabus. That’s because errors can arise at any point along the chain – from ordering medicines, to stock control, to interpreting and processing prescriptions, and to dispensing that medicine safety to the patient without any cause for confusion on their part.

Check back to PTCB Test Prep soon for more content on medication safety – offering the must-know details you need to know to maximize your result on the day of your exam!

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PTCB Test Prep Author


Elaine Walker

Elaine joined PTCB Test Prep in 2017, currently serving as the lead product development manager overseeing both course development and quality improvement. Mrs. Walker is a graduate of California State University and has worked as a pharmacy technician for over twenty years – with particular interests in pediatric pharmacy, extemporaneous compounding, and hospital pharmacy. Over the past 8-years, she has helped prepare thousands of students for the PTCB examination.