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When Are Pharmacists Liable for Prescription Errors?

A row of labeled Rx prescriptions sitting on pharmacy self.

Given the abundance of prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs available on the market today, it’s no secret that mistakes are inevitable. Sadly, many people suffer both physically and psychologically from acts of medical malpractice when it comes to taking drugs prescribed by a trusted physician.

According to National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention (NCC MERP), a medication error is defined 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.”

Approximately 7,000 to 9,000 Americans die each year as a result of prescription drug errors. The estimated cost of these mistakes exceeds $40 billion and affects 7 million people on an annual basis. There are various reasons that these mistakes occur throughout each stage of the medication-use system.

In the American healthcare system, there are various stages at which a prescription error can occur:

  • Ordering/prescribing. When a physician calls in the medication to the patient’s pharmacy of choice.
  • Documenting. When a pharmacist documents patient interactions. This includes written or electronically-generated information about a patient to describe the care or services provided to them.
  • Transcribing. The process of copying the drug history to the drug chart in order to make label directions and information more understandable for patients.
  • Dispensing. Filling the prescription by preparing/packaging a medication for the patient based on the doctor’s prescription.
  • Administering. The actual act of giving the patient the filled prescription.
  • Monitoring. An ongoing process in which pharmacists actively review and monitor a patient’s medical history and any adverse effects caused by prescription medications. It involves any communication with the physician and patient in the event that a problem occurs.

Common Reasons for Prescription Errors

When it comes to human nature, mistakes are inevitable. Even physicians and pharmacists are prone to make errors every once in a while. Unfortunately, some of these mistakes can cause fatal consequences for patients.

No matter how long you’ve been using a prescription drug, it’s crucial to be proactive and exercise caution when calling in, picking up, and taking prescribed medications. Taking the time to read labels and staying alert for updated risks, warnings, and directions can help protect you against life-threatening errors. It’s essential to keep an eye on quantity and dosage before taking your prescribed medications.

The ever-evolving pharmacy industry continues to grow, there has been an increasing pressure on pharmacies and their staff to serve more and more patients. Consequently, the potential for dosing mistakes and other errors has surged, too.

Keep reading to learn the most common reasons for prescription medication errors.

Mixing up medications.

This entails giving a patient the wrong medication. This can be as simple as choosing the wrong drug name from the system’s drop-down menu. Regardless of the reason, this can easily put the patient’s life and health at severe risk.

Considering the wide array of manufacturers and brands that produce the same type of medication, it’s understandable that the abundance of options may be confusing and result in mix-ups. As a patient, take care to double-check the name and description on your prescription, especially if it’s your first time taking it.

Dosage and labelling errors.

It’s important to make sure that your medication matches the description on the label. To prevent fatal effects of pharmacy errors, patients should take care to check for the following before taking prescribed medications:

  • Dosage/milligrams
  • Quantity
  • Drug description
  • Expiration date

Drug labels include a description of the medication itself (for example, “white and green capsule” or “orange oval tablet”) in addition to printed digits that should be on the front and/or back of the medication.

Taking simple steps to ensure that the drug you’ve been given matches the label’s description can save you unnecessary grief from ingesting the incorrect medication. Make sure the dosage is correct and take care to read all warnings and directions beforehand—regardless of how long you’ve been taking the drug.

Failure to identify dangerous drug interactions.

A pharmacist is legally obligated to address any potential interactions between a patient’s medications. In many cases, a drug that is perfectly safe to take on its own is no longer safe when combined with a patient’s existing medication.

For example, when administering an anticoagulant (blood thinner) to a patient, a pharmacist should stress the importance of avoiding nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as Advil), as this particular interaction can interfere with normal blood clotting and increase risk of bleeding.

Similarly, if a patient has known allergies, the pharmacist should take that into account to avoid filling a medication that would cause the patient harm.

When Can a Pharmacist Be Sued for Negligence?

Like all medical professionals, pharmacists can be held liable for acts of medical negligence. In lethal scenarios, such as dispensing the wrong medication or mislabeling bottles, pharmacists can and should be held liable for damages, suffering, and wrongful deaths of affected patients.

From missing instructions to lack of review, there are many instances in which a pharmacist can be held liable for prescription drug errors. This is why it’s important to know your rights and take precautions to protect yourself in the event that an error is made. Patients can proactively protect their health by:

  • Asking questions. Don’t be shy to address all questions and concerns with the pharmacist. Regardless of how busy they may seem, it’s important to consult with them if you have any doubts or uncertainties regarding your medications, as they are your best resource to do so.
  • Always double checking drug warnings, directions, and labels.
  • Reporting any errors you find. Alert the pharmacy as soon as possible if and when you discover a mistake, as doing so can protect other patients from potentially lethal consequences.

What Should I Do if I Take the Wrong Medication?

Even when we try our very best to protect our health, mistakes still occur. In the event that you ingest the wrong prescription or take an incorrect dosage due to a pharmaceutical error, it’s imperative to do the following:

  • Seek medical care. Call your doctor as soon as you realize you’ve taken the wrong drug. If you have an immediate reaction, it’s important to visit the ER or call 911 if necessary.
  • Stop taking the medication immediately. While ingesting the wrong prescription may not present any immediate or noticeable effects, avoid taking the medication again, even if you believe it to be safe.
  • Keep the medication. In the event that you press charges against a pharmacist for a prescription drug error, it’s important to hold on to the incorrect medication as evidence.
  • Seek counsel from an experienced medical malpractice attorney. The majority of the time, pharmacies have access to expensive representation and excessive funds and resources that are unavailable to a single patient. It’s important to have reliable legal counsel on your side to prioritize your health and seek the compensation you rightfully deserve for your suffering.

Securing assistance from a skilled lawyer can also help you correctly and effectively report the mistake to the pharmacy and ensure swift action is taken to prevent the error from harming someone else.

Don’t Wait to Pursue the Justice You Deserve

Our firm understands how powerless it feels to be the victim of medical malpractice. When it comes to protecting your life and health, there is no excuse for medical negligence. If you’ve been wronged by a prescription drug error, you may be entitled to compensation for suffering and damages.

Attorney Brett H. Oppenheimer has helped recover more than $100 million on behalf of his clients. When it comes to your health, you shouldn’t have to settle for less than superior legal representation. Our team has proudly served residents of the Louisville area for decades and have a successful track record to prove it.

If you’ve been wronged by an act of negligence on part of a physician or pharmacist, it’s vital to take action now. Call (502) 242-8877 to request a free consultation today.

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