Medication Errors in Nursing Homes

Unfortunately, improper administration of prescription drugs in nursing homes harms and kills some residents. Most residents of long-term care nursing facilities take prescription drugs to manage various health conditions. Medication errors (MEs) happen and cause residents to experience mild-to-severe reactions or to develop complications related to their specific medical conditions.

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2022 research report published in StatPearls noted that “Each year, in the United States alone, 7,000 to 9,000 people die because of a medication error. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of other patients experience but often do not report an adverse reaction or other medication complications.”

Further, residents may fail to receive their medications at all (omission), which puts them at risk for harm. Taking care of patients who have endured medication errors involving drug administration costs more than $40 billion annually in the United States alone.

If your family member is injured or killed because of a negligent medication mistake in a nursing home, you might be eligible for financial compensation.

What is a medication error in a care home?

In the past, there has been confusion about the precise parameters of a medication error. The National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention (NCCMERP) recommends all researchers, software developers, and institutions to use this standard definition to identify MEs:

“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.”

It’s important to develop a standardized definition. Drug accidents in nursing homes cause life-threatening situations, increased disability, unnecessary hospitalization, congenital disabilities, and wrongful death.

What are some common mistakes that lead to medication errors in nursing homes?

Medication errors are drug events that cause patients harm or death, leading to huge fines for nursing care facilities. In most cases, medication errors are accidental and typically the result of training or staffing challenges. The most common mistakes that nursing home staff members make that constitute medication errors include:

  • Administering the wrong medication
  • Administering medication that has expired
  • Administering the medication in the wrong dosage
  • Administering injectable medications into the wrong area of the body

Another common mistake occurs when the nursing staff delivers the patients’ medication in a pill cup but fails to observe the patient to ensure it is taken. All these examples can lead to patient impairment or worse.

How common are medication errors in nursing homes?

According to the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, “Medication errors are among the most common medical errors, harming at least 1.5 million people every year.”

According to a systematic review in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS), researchers concluded, “MEs were common, involving 16-27% of residents in studies examining all types of MEs and 13-31% of residents in studies examining transfer-related MEs, and 75% of residents were prescribed at least one PIM.”

Indeed, millions of American families entrust nursing home staff members to care for their elderly loved ones. Nursing home medication errors are preventable, and every effort should be made to avoid them. It could be that a nursing home is understaffed, but that does not justify negligence.

Nursing home facilities, owners, managers, and all staff members must be accountable when harmful medication mistakes cause distress to residents. The administration of medication should not typically cause adverse events.

We all understand that, in most cases, the nursing staff isn’t acting maliciously. Simple mistakes happen. However, when simple mistakes cause injury or death, there must be accountability.


What are the most common types of medication errors in nursing?

Prescription medication errors are all too common in nursing homes where most residents are on multiple medications. Here are some examples of how medication errors occur in nursing homes:

  • Failure to provide adequate food before giving the medication when required
  • Crushing up a medication that is intended to be taken in full form
  • Failure to provide adequate liquids along with the medication
  • Failure to shake a medication that needs shaking
  • Incorrect administration of eye drops

Small dosing mistakes of prescription medications can have devastating effects on elderly nursing home residents. In some cases, such mistakes lead to death.

What causes medication administration errors in nursing homes?

The prevalence of medication errors is surprising. There are a lot of possible causes for personal nursing home injuries due to medication errors in nursing homes. 

Common Causes of Medication Errors

  • Understaffed nursing facility
  • Pharmacist drug supply mistakes
  • Illegible transcription on the prescription
  • Poor understanding of the patient’s medical history
  • Adverse side effects when taken with other medications
  • Nursing staff confusion about the proper way to administer medication
  • Misdiagnosis of the patient’s condition
  • Wrong medication prescribed

Medication errors fall into one of four categories: knowledge-based, rule-based, action-based, or memory-based.

  1. Knowledge-based MEs happen when the staff lacks proper knowledge about the medication or how to administer it properly.
  2. Rule-based medication errors happen when the nursing staff applies a protocol incorrectly, such as administering an injectable medication in the wrong area of the body. Following medication safety protocol is important.
  3. Action-based MEs occur when the nursing staff has the correct information and is attempting to do everything properly but then inadvertently make a dosing or administration mistake. Older people can be very fragile, and a small mistake can be devastating.
  4. Memory-based errors happen when the nursing staff forgets important information about administering a drug. A wrong dose can cause serious injury. Intentional or not, it’s a form of nursing home abuse.

Receiving Financial Compensation for Medication Error Injury or Death

Significant financial compensation is possible if your loved one was injured or died because of a reported medication error in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or other health care facility..

However, medication error lawsuit cases can be quite complex and take a long time to conclude in court. The best first step is to reach out to a law firm with the extensive experience in this medical malpractice area and schedule a free consultation.

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Patricia Shelton, MD

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  • University of Washington, Doctor of Medicine – MD. June 2008
  • University of Washington, Bachelor of Science – BS, Jun 2003


Neuroscience and Medicine


  • Dr. Shelton primarily writes content for health-related websites, but has also written test prep materials, white papers, published research articles, court documents, and more.
  • Dr. Shelton teaches anatomy and physiology at the college level for the National Institutes of Health.

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Nursing Home Abuse Should Have Consequences.

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Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.