Medical Malpractice Extends to Pharmacists

By | March 15, 2017

A discussion of medical malpractice calls to mind extreme examples of physicians misdiagnosing terminal cancer or surgeons removing the wrong kidney. While instances such as these have occurred, there are other medical professionals whose mistakes can result in serious injury. Whether they are employed at hospitals, clinics, drugstores, grocery stores, or online/mail order companies, pharmacists have obligations to patients and must take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm.

Common Duties

Pharmacists typically:

  • Fill, label, and dispense prescriptions
  • Create customized medications (compounding)
  • Check for negative interactions
  • Give instructions on when and how to take the medicine
  • Inform about side effects
  • Communicate as the main liaison between prescribers, insurance companies, and patients
  • Keep records
  • Train and supervise technicians
  • Manage inventory
  • Keep informed of drug approvals and recalls.

Common Errors

This range of responsibilities leaves a lot of room for pharmaceutical error. The most common claims revolve around patients getting the wrong drug. This can have many causes, including misread prescriptions, keying in the wrong prescription, grabbing the wrong drug to fill the script, incorrectly compounding medications, and giving the patient someone else’s pills. Other frequent mistakes are missed drug interactions, incorrect directions, and patients who are given the wrong dose of a drug. Look-alike spellings, sound-alike names, heavy workloads, long shifts, and an atmosphere full of distractions all contribute to the problem.

What Has Happened?

Many pharmacists carry malpractice insurance to protect their license in addition to the liability insurance provided to them by their employers. The pharmacy underwriter group CNA recently examined ten years’ worth of data on its closed claims and found that three-quarters of them arose from just two causes: patients receiving the wrong drug or patients receiving the wrong dose. Some of these mistakes were so serious that they resulted in overdose 13.6 percent of the time and death 11.7 percent of the time.

According to the study, the most commonly mistaken prescription is for the drug clonidine. Used to treat high blood pressure, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the drug was erroneously replaced with Klonopin (used to treat seizures), Klonopin’s generic clonazepam, and glipizide (used to treat diabetes). Other errors occurred when Aricept was dispensed instead of Aciphex, clomipramine instead of clomiphene, prednisone instead of primidone, and Toprol instead of Topamax. Patients who are given the wrong drug are not only at risk of not treating their condition, they are also susceptible to developing adverse effects.

Taking any medication should not be treated lightly. Drugs are powerful – and they can interact with each other in dangerous ways. A recent exposé by the Chicago Tribune found that half of the 255 pharmacies they tested dispensed risky drug pairs without warning the patient. A reporter tried to fill prescriptions for two drugs that were relatively safe when taken alone, but that could have severe repercussions when taken together. Different pairs of drugs were tested, and 52 percent of the pharmacies sold the medications without mentioning the potential interaction. Of the chains tested, CVS had the highest failure rate (63 percent) followed by Kmart (60 percent), Walmart (43 percent), and Walgreens (30 percent).

What You Can Do

It’s important to know that you can suffer an injury because of a pharmacy error. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions such as:

  1. What should the prescribed medication look like?
  2. Is there a best time of day to take it?
  3. How much should I take and how often?
  4. How long will I need to take it?
  5. What are the potential side effects I should look for?
  6. What should I do if I miss a dose?
  7. Does this medication interact with my other medications or with any foods?
  8. Where should I keep it?
  9. How soon should I start to feel better?
  10. Is there anything I should avoid (liquids, foods, activities, etc.)?

You are the last line of defense for your health. If you think you may have been harmed by receiving the wrong medication, the wrong dose, or by an adverse reaction to a drug, you may be entitled to compensation for your injury. An attorney who is experienced in medical malpractice law can help you examine the situation and figure out your rights.

About Author:

For more than 20 years, Attorney David Mann has helped Macon and Middle Georgia residents who have suffered personal injuries obtain the compensation for their losses that they deserve.

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