What Happens When Pharmacists Make Mistakes?


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Every year in the United States, 7,000 to 9,000 people die due to a medication error, and hundreds of thousands of others experience (but often do not report) a poor outcome due to a medication-associated mistake. The total cost of caring for patients affected by medication errors exceeds $40 billion annually. In addition to the financial cost, victims often experience psychological and physical pain and suffering. Pharmacists play a crucial role in protecting their patients by catching errors made by other clinicians, but they can potentially cause their own catastrophic mistakes.

How Do Medication Errors Occur?

From when a drug is prescribed to when it reaches the patient, an error can occur in many ways. Prescribers make errors by writing illegibly, prescribing the wrong medication, dose, or dosage form, providing incorrect directions, or not accounting for a patient’s other health conditions or allergies. It’s the pharmacist’s job to catch these errors before they reach the patient.

With electronic prescriptions becoming the norm in recent years, computer entry error is becoming a significant source of problems. Prescribers can easily select the wrong drug from a dropdown menu, prescribe medicines and dosages that don’t exist and forget to change the computer’s “default” directions to account for the individual patient’s needs. It’s the pharmacist’s job also to identify and correct these errors.

Patient error is another common cause of medication mistakes. Misunderstanding or ignoring the directions, forgetting to stop one medication before starting another, not understanding how to properly take a drug, or stopping medications without consulting a doctor can all cause harm. When a new medication is prescribed to a patient, the pharmacist is responsible for ensuring they understand what it is and how to take it.

Compounding or dispensing errors are made at the pharmacy level. They could be caused by a patient being sold someone else’s medication, incorrectly compounding a specialty medication, or misreading the doctor’s prescription and giving the wrong drug, dose, dosage form, or directions. While these errors may be made by anyone working in the pharmacy, it’s the pharmacist’s responsibility to catch them before a prescription enters the patient’s hands.

What Happens When Pharmacists Make Mistakes?

While most of us think of pharmacists as dispensing medications, their most important role is to catch and prevent errors. When they find an error, whether made by the prescriber, the patient, or their pharmacy technicians, it’s their responsibility to prevent that error from causing harm to the patient. When a pharmacist makes an error or fails to identify the error made by someone else, severe damage to that patient’s health and well-being is possible.

In Pennsylvania, patient-pharmacist consultations are legally required every time a new medication is dispensed. At this consultation, the pharmacist ensures the patient receives the expected medication, understands how to use it safely, and is informed about potential side effects and how to prevent them.

The pharmacist is also responsible for ensuring that the drugs a patient is prescribed don’t interact with each other and must make sure that there are no contraindications in the patient’s medical history that would make a medication dangerous for them to take. When patients see multiple doctors with different specialties, having a pharmacist review each medication for potential interactions is essential.

Pharmacists are responsible for catching errors, and any error they make or fail to identify can cause harm. Moreover, if the pharmacist should have detected the mistake, either by use of their own extensive medical knowledge or through a legally mandated consultation with the patient, then they can also be held liable for injuries that occur as a result of their negligence.

Did A Pharmacist’s Negligence Cause My Catastrophic Injury?

When a medication error occurs, it can be challenging to decide who's truly at fault. You may be entitled to compensation if a prescription drug has caused you or a loved one to experience a severe complication. Even if a doctor committed your medication error, it's still possible that your pharmacist shares some of the responsibility. A second opinion can help determine whether the pharmacist should have caught your medical error and if they are liable for any pain and suffering you've endured.

Why Choose Ross Feller Casey?

Ross Feller Casey has the experience to litigate even the most challenging medical malpractice cases. We have recovered more than $3 billion for our clients, including those injured due to medication errors. In one case, we recovered $12.95 million for the family of a woman who died from a medication error.

Our skilled lawyers and Ivy League-trained doctors will work together to ensure that whoever caused your medication error is held responsible for the damage that their negligence has caused. If a pharmacist's negligence results in catastrophic injury or death, we'll do everything possible to ensure you get the compensation you deserve. There's no fee unless you win, so contact us today for a free consultation.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.