How Prescription Errors Can Strike Anywhere
When we take medicine, we do so to improve our health, not endanger it. Unfortunately, many people are injured or killed when the prescription they have filled is incorrect. In fact, it is estimated that more than 2.3 million drug dispensing errors are made each year in the United States, resulting in about 100,000 deaths. Prescription errors occur in hospital pharmacies, independent pharmacies, and in chain pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart.
Common Pharmacy Prescription Errors
Pharmacists are trained professionals who go through extensive schooling. Pharmacy technicians are trained to assist pharmacists, but are not as knowledgeable as pharmacists. A pharmacy technician can fill a prescription, but that prescription must be checked over and approved by a pharmacist before it is handed over to the customer. During this process, a number of errors can take place, including:
- Dispensing the wrong medication.
- Dispensing the wrong dosage of a medication.
- Incorrect labeling of a medication.
- Incorrect instructions on the medication label.
- Failure to foresee adverse interactions with other medications.
- Failure to foresee adverse interactions with patient’s health condition (“Do not take if…”).
- Failure to take into account the patient’s known drug allergies.
- Mix-ups with another patient’s prescription.
Reasons for Prescription Errors
According to a former chairman of the Pharmacy Administration Division of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas in Austin, prescription errors typically occur because pharmacists are overworked. Part of the reason for this is that more and more pharmacies are staying open 24 hours a day, causing staffing problems. According to the former chairman, the typical pharmacy stocks up to 5,000 different medications, fills 300 prescriptions daily, and makes two to four errors per day.
Other factors contributing to the high rate of prescription errors are the similar-sounding names of medications, which can easily confuse busy pharmacists and technicians. Poor handwriting by doctors has also been cited as a reason for prescription errors.
There have also been documented cases where pharmacy employees have overridden computerized warning systems put in place to prevent prescription errors. This is a violation of established procedure and is completely unacceptable.
Protecting Yourself from Prescription Errors
While we rely on pharmacy staff to be competent in their work, we also need to be vigilant about the medications we take. The following are measures you can take to prevent being injured by prescription errors:
- If possible, always use the same pharmacy for all your medications. This way, the pharmacist can spot any possible adverse interactions between the medications you are taking. To be extra safe, tell the pharmacist what other medications you are taking, and ask if there are possible adverse interactions.
- Make a copy of your prescription, and compare it to the label on the medication and accompanying paperwork. Carefully check the medication’s generic name, brand name, dosage, and instructions.
- Ask the pharmacist what the medication is used to treat, if there are special instructions (take with food, etc.), and about possible side effects. If your doctor is treating you for something like a cold, but you find the medication is for something like athlete’s foot, you should ask your doctor to recheck the prescription.
- Always keep a medication in its original container to avoid mistaking it for another medication.
- If, after taking the medication, you start to experience any unpredicted side effects, call your doctor immediately.
- You can also use an online pill identifier, like https://www.webmd.com/pill-identification/default.htm to double-check the appearance of a medication. This is not a sure thing, so if you have any questions, please speak to your doctor or pharmacist directly.
If you or a family member has suffered harm due to a prescription error, you need to report the error to the pharmacy, as well as the Institute for Safe Medical Practices. It’s also important that you contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
Omaha’s Bottlinger Law L.L.C. is dedicated to getting Nebraska injury victims the compensation they deserve. If you’ve experienced a prescription error, regardless of whether you’ve been injured, call our offices at (402) 505-8234 for a free consultation.
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