In healthcare, patient safety should always be a top priority. Unfortunately, even with the strictest protocols in place, medication errors can still occur—and when it comes to pharmacy mistakes, the consequences can be severe. While there is no uniform definition of ‘medical error’, the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting & Prevention defines a medication error as, “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the healthcare professional, patient, or consumer.” Like medical doctors, pharmacists are profoundly responsible for their patients’ well-being. Yet, when pharmacists fail in their duty of care due to negligence or intentional misconduct, the consequences can be dire, potentially endangering lives.
Understanding Pharmacy Medication Errors: What Are They?
Pharmacy medication errors encompass a wide range of mistakes that occur while prescribing, dispensing, or administering medications. According to the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, these errors can include providing the wrong medication, incorrect dosage, inadequate instructions, or failing to identify potential drug interactions. Here are six examples of pharmacy malpractice.
Incorrect Dispensing of Medication
Pharmacists shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that dispensed medications precisely match prescribed drugs. Errors can arise from:
- Confusing medications with similar names.
- Mixing up prescriptions of different individuals.
- Mislabeling prescription containers.
Inaccurate Dosage Dispensation
At times, pharmacists provide the proper medication but in the wrong dosage. This mistake commonly results from:
- Mathematical or compounding miscalculations.
- Difficulty in deciphering a physician’s handwritten instructions.
Omissions and Inadequate Counseling
Serious complications can stem from pharmacists neglecting to offer correct instructions or comprehensive medication advice. Errors can include:
- Overlooking interactions between drugs and alcohol/foods.
- Failing to specify when and how frequently to take medications.
- Neglecting to warn against certain activities while on medication, like driving or operating machinery.
- Failing to provide warning labels.
Dispensing accurate and complete directions falls within the pharmacist’s responsibility to patients. Incorrect directions may result from:
- Misinterpreting a doctor’s directives.
- Providing directions for the wrong medication or dosage.
Neglecting to Identify Medication Conflicts and Contradictions
Effective communication between patients and doctors prevents potentially fatal drug interactions. Pharmacists serve as a final safety checkpoint, ensuring that newly prescribed drugs do not clash or pose a threat alongside existing prescriptions.
Failure to Account for Allergies
Pharmacists are responsible for cross-referencing prescribed drugs with a patient’s known allergies, avoiding medications that could trigger harm. Physicians should be alerted to and inform patients about potential prescription drug conflicts.
Why Do Pharmacy Medication Errors Happen?
Several factors can contribute to pharmacy medication errors. These may include:
- Communication Breakdowns: Miscommunication between healthcare professionals can lead to incorrect prescriptions or dispensing errors.
- Workplace Stress and Fatigue: Pharmacy staff working long hours under high pressure may be more prone to errors due to fatigue.
- Inadequate Training: Pharmacists and technicians not adequately trained to identify and prevent errors are at a higher risk of making mistakes.
- Technology Failures: Automated systems and electronic prescribing can be helpful, but technical glitches can lead to errors if not properly managed.
- Lack of Double-Checks: Failing to implement double-check procedures can increase the likelihood of errors slipping through the cracks.
Where Can Pharmacy Medication Errors Occur?
While it’s common to hear the word “pharmacy” and picture a drive-through neighborhood establishment or pharmacy chain, it’s important to note that medication errors can also happen in the hospital during an inpatient stay. Each hospital has a pharmacy to issue medications, and unfortunately, the potential for pharmacy mistakes also exists in the hospital.
Evaluating a Pharmacy Malpractice Claim
For a pharmacy malpractice lawsuit to hold ground, several key elements must be established:
- Existence of a Duty of Care: A connection between the patient and pharmacist, establishing a responsibility towards care.
- Patient Reliance: Patients entrust pharmacists with filling prescriptions, offering guidance, and aligning medications with medical conditions.
- Breach of Duty of Care: The pharmacist fails to meet the standard of care through negligence or deliberate indifference.
- Harm Incurred: The breach causing harm, such as illness, pain, suffering, or injury.
Tangible Damages: The breach leading to actual damages.
Seeking Justice for Pharmacy Medication Errors
Patients and their families have legal rights regarding pharmacy mistakes. They may be eligible to file medical malpractice claims against the responsible parties, including pharmacies, pharmacists, and healthcare providers involved in the medication process.
- Proving Negligence: To establish a medical malpractice claim, it’s essential to demonstrate that the pharmacy or healthcare provider breached their duty of care, harming the patient.
- Gathering Evidence: Building a solid case requires collecting medical records, prescription records, witness statements, and expert opinions to support the claim.
- Compensation: If successful, plaintiffs may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other damages resulting from the medication error.
How Golitko & Daly’s Medical Malpractice Lawyers Can Help
Pharmacists are subject to human error just like the rest of us, but that does not absolve them of any responsibility or malpractice. Pharmacy mistakes can have dire consequences for you and your family.
It’s important to seek legal representation from a medical malpractice firm if you believe you are a victim of malpractice. An experienced attorney can help you understand your legal options and hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. In addition to seeking legal recourse, working with healthcare providers to ensure that you receive the appropriate medical care and support is essential.
To schedule a free consultation, call us at 317-566-9600 (Indianapolis), 765-865-9300 (Kokomo), or 812-566-2600 (Bloomington), or complete our online inquiry form to schedule an appointment* with one of our health professional attorneys to review your case. We hope to hear from you if you were harmed through medical treatments or neglect. We have offices in Indianapolis, Kokomo, and Bloomington to serve you.
*Free consultation; no retainer fee. You don’t pay a fee until we obtain a settlement for you. All attorney fees are based on the amount of your recovery.