In a report on its investigation of the national pharmacy chain CVS/pharmacy, Washington DC’s NBC affiliate, News 4, claims to have found numerous alleged medication errors and other problems. Consumers reported receiving the wrong prescription and, in at least one case, meeting with indifference from employees. A former CVS pharmacist with more than thirty years at the company filed a whistleblower lawsuit last year, alleging in part that the company fired him in retaliation for reporting his concerns about an increasing rate of medication errors due to staff reductions. CVS has denied the allegations against it and publicly stated its commitment to protecting patients’ health and safety.
Washington’s News 4 reported a woman’s claim that CVS made a mistake when refilling her prescription for potassium citrate, which she took for her kidneys. She noticed that the pills did not look familiar, and saw that the pharmacy had given her a bottle of potassium chloride instead of citrate. The pills look similar and have similar names, but they have very different uses. Potassium chloride is used to treat hypokalemia, or low blood potassium, and can cause serious, even fatal, complications for some kidney patients. The woman claimed that when she notified the pharmacy manager of the mistake, he responded “Well, potassium is potassium.”
The report also looked at automatic refills, a service offered by CVS and other pharmacies. This allows the pharmacy to refill a prescription at regular intervals, so that the patient does not have to call and request a refill. Problems may occur, however, if the pharmacy refills prescriptions that the patient does not want or need. An elderly patient told the news team that he ended up with more Lidoderm patches, which contain an extremely strong painkiller, than he wanted, based on the auto refill system. This could lead to confusion for some patients, who might not realize that they are receiving medications they did not request.