Earlier this month, a court in Nevada heard a case involving an interesting legal issue that has recently come up in courts across the nation. In the case, Burton v. Walgreen, the issue was whether a pharmacy had a duty to preserve evidence of an error made by one of the pharmacists. The court determined that whenever a patient returns medication to a pharmacy that was given to him in error, the pharmacy does have a duty to preserve it.

White PillsThe Facts of the Case

According to a summary of the case, the patient was prescribed Valsartan, which is a blood pressure medication. He filled the prescription at a local Walgreen’s pharmacy, and when he got home, he began taking the medication as instructed. After taking about five doses, the patient’s wife noticed that there were two different kinds of pills in the vial that her husband was provided. The patient’s wife then took the medication back to the pharmacy, where the pharmacist confirmed that the patient had been given unprescribed lithium pills in addition to his Valsartan.

After documenting the error, the pharmacist quarantined and destroyed the medication, pursuant to the company’s written policy. In a lawsuit later filed against the pharmacy, the patient claimed that the pharmacy had engaged in spoliation of evidence. Spoliation of evidence is the destruction or significant alteration of evidence by someone who knows or should know that the evidence will be used as evidence in an upcoming court case. A court can impose sanctions against a party for spoliation of evidence.

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Pharmacists are human, and like all other humans they are susceptible to making mistakes. The range of pharmacy errors is vast, from incorrect medications to improper dosing instructions, but the effects are always the same. The patient is put in grave danger of either not receiving their prescribed medication or ingesting a potentially harmful, unprescribed substance. In any event, despite the fact that most pharmacy errors are committed by well-intentioned pharmacists, when a patient suffers serious harm as a result of an error, a personal injury lawsuit may be an appropriate way for the patient to receive compensation for all they have been put through.

White PillsJust as there are many types of pharmacy errors, there are also many causes. One of the most common causes of in- and out-patient pharmacy errors is a pharmacist mixing up similarly named medications. In fact, a recent article in one industry news source discusses how two similarly named drugs, Venofer and Vfend, were recently the subject of a potentially serious pharmacy error.

Evidently, the pharmacist who made the error had filled a prescription for Venofer 200 mg earlier in the day. Once complete, the pharmacist placed the prescription in the “complete” basket and moved on to other projects. Later that day, the pharmacist came across another prescription, this time for Vfend. Having just filled a prescription for Venofer, the pharmacist misread the label and grabbed Venofer instead of Vfend. Both drugs were in a 200-mg dose, adding to the confusion.

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In order to reduce pharmacy errors, a hospital in Japan has adopted quality control procedures developed and used by Toyota, according to a recent article. The new procedures are intended to improve workflow among the hospital’s 30 pharmacists, who work in staggered shifts among racks and racks of prescription medications.

illsPrior to adopting Toyota’s safety measures, the hospital was known to have committed more than 10 pharmacy errors per month. After studying and implementing the new procedures, the hospital has reduced pharmacy errors by more than 50 percent.

Pharmacy errors are a worldwide problem, including in the United States. Common hospital pharmacy errors include giving patients the wrong dose of a medication, giving them the wrong medication altogether, or unintentionally giving them another patient’s medication.

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Medical errors account for a huge number of serious injuries and deaths across the United States each year. In fact, according to a recent report, medical errors are the third-most common cause of death in the United States. Included in the term “medical errors” are mistakes made by doctors, such as misdiagnoses, surgical errors, and medication errors.

Orange PillsNo matter where in the health care system a serious error occurs, the medical professional responsible for the error may be held liable through a personal injury lawsuit. By virtue of caring for patients, doctors and pharmacists assume a responsibility to provide a certain level of care, as measured by the professional standard in that specific geographic area. When a physician’s or pharmacist’s performance falls short of this duty, they could be found liable for medical malpractice or general negligence, depending on the allegations.

According to a recent study conducted by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, approximately 1.5 million people are affected each year by medication errors. While many of these errors occur in the out-patient setting of retail pharmacies, a significant number of medication errors occur in the in-patient setting as well. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation, preventable in-patient medication errors cost the U.S. health care system approximately $16.4 billion each year. This figure includes amounts for the treatment of preventable illnesses and diseases that were caused by medication errors, as well as the cost of hospital readmission. Importantly, this figure does not include the cost incurred from the many successful negligence and medical malpractice lawsuits that are settled or resolved each year.

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Prescription drugs are controlled by the government for a reason. They are often very powerful medications that can be dangerous when taken at the same time as other medications, they may be easily abused, and they may have very sensitive dosing instructions. However, when a doctor prescribes a patient a prescription medication, it is often very important that the patient take the medication as directed. A patient’s failure to do so may result in a worsening of symptoms, resulting in a serious injury or death.

Yellow PillsThis risk of injury translates to a very important duty on the part of the pharmacist to ensure that the patient’s prescriptions are properly filled, dosed, and dispensed. A pharmacist’s failure to properly complete a patient’s prescription may mean that a patient is not receiving the medication that they need. Any worsening of symptoms caused by a pharmacist’s mistake may be the basis for a personal injury lawsuit. One recent example of a pharmacy error illustrates how serious the repercussions can be when a patient fails to get his physician-prescribed medication.

Man Requires Kidney Transplant after Pharmacy Error

Earlier this year, an Ohio man was diagnosed with stage 5 renal failure after the pharmacy where he fills his blood-pressure medication accidentally gave him anti-seizure medication. According to one local news source covering the tragedy, the error occurred when the pharmacy technician filling the prescription overrode an error that was supposed to alert him that he was filling the prescription with the wrong medication.

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When most people think of pharmacy errors, they think of a busy pharmacist behind the counter at a grocery store or retail pharmacy. However, pharmacy errors occur in all shapes and sizes and at all locations, including errors in medications that are administered in the hospital by medical professionals. Many of these errors include injectable medications that are given to the patient through an IV.

IV DripOf course, the ultimate burden of ensuring that a medication is safely administered to the patient lies with the pharmacist and, in cases of inpatient care, also with the nurse or doctor administering the medication to the patient. Whenever a patient is given the wrong medication or even the wrong dose of the correct medication, that patient may suffer a serious adverse reaction, potentially resulting in serious injuries or even death. In these circumstances, the patient or their family may be entitled to monetary compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. This is among the reasons that pharmaceutical companies take the possibility of errors involving their medication very seriously.

Pharmaceutical Company Develops System to Reduce Error Rates among Injectable Medications

It is estimated that the total number of errors involving injectable medications is roughly 1.2 million per year, making these errors not as uncommon as most people think. The cost of injectable medication errors reaches into the $5 billion range, and this figure cannot accurately take into account the pain and suffering of the patients and families involved. Because of the severity and frequency of these errors, one pharmaceutical company developed a specialized system to help combat injectable medication errors at hospitals across the country.

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It should come as no surprise that pharmacists are busy professionals. Often filling thousands of prescriptions a week for hundreds of clients, keeping everything straight can be a difficult task. However, it is one that pharmacists take on willingly. It is also a task that they are legally obligated to complete accurately. In other words, when a pharmacist makes a mistake with a patient’s medication, the pharmacist who filled the prescription, as well as the pharmacy that employs the pharmacist, may be held financially liable for any injuries as a result of the error.

Pill BottleThe causes of medication error are not generally a lazy or uncaring pharmacist. In fact, according to a recent study, the causes of many pharmacy errors are that there are too many prescription drugs with similar names. According to one news report covering the new study, look-alike and sound-alike drug names are a real problem in the pharmaceutical industry.

The Study

The study took a group of pharmacists, nurses, doctors, technicians, and lay people, and it attempted to determine if mix-ups occurring in the labs (before a drug is released to the pharmacy) can be predictive of future errors that may occur in real life. The results of the study were not surprising in that similar-looking or similar-sounding drug names will result in an increase in error rates.

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Prescription drugs are controlled by the government for a reason. Often, prescription drugs are dangerous if they are taken in conjunction with other medications, can more easily lead to an inadvertent overdose, and may easily lead to abuse because of their addictive qualities. Over the past few years, the court system has seen a number of lawsuits brought against various manufacturers and distributors of addictive prescription pain killers, claiming that the manufacturer or distributor too loosely controls the dangerous medication. In the most recent case of this type, a court held that the insurance company that covered a prescription drug distributor was required to defend against a case filed against the distributor, alleging that the distributor was negligent in continuing to provide large amounts of prescription medication to local pharmacies.

Assorted PillsThe Facts of the Case

The State of West Virginia has long been suffering from an epidemic of prescription drug abuse. The government of West Virginia filed a lawsuit against a drug distributor, claiming that the distributor was continually providing dangerous medication to “pill mills” across the state. A “pill mill” is a pejorative term used to refer to a pharmacy where loose regulation of prescription drugs results in many drug-addicted patients filling fraudulently obtained prescriptions.

The drug distributor had an insurance policy through Cincinnati Insurance Company. When the distributor got notice of the lawsuit, it asked the insurance company to help defend against the suit, based on the contractual obligations in the policy. Specifically, the insurance company was obligated to cover any lawsuit arising from a “bodily injury” caused by the distributor. However, the insurance company refused to defend the lawsuit, claiming that the compensation sought was for West Virginia, rather than anyone who suffered a true bodily injury. The court declined to make this distinction and found that the case was based on a claim of bodily injury. Thus, the insurance company will be required to assist the drug distributor in defending the lawsuit brought by the State of West Virginia.

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As you may recall reading on this blog a few weeks ago, back in early June of this year, an eight-year-old Colorado boy passed away after he was given 1,000 times the correct dose of his medication. The news of this tragic accident shocked the nation, and reporters have been following up on the story to bring a more complete version of what actually happened to light.

Liquid MedicineAccording to one local news report that recently provided an update on the tragic accident, the boy had suffered from the symptoms of ADHD for nearly a year before his parents decided that medicating their son was the best option. Aware of the potentially harmful effects of the medication, the boy’s parents were hesitant to provide their son with such a powerful medication. However, his worsening symptoms and inability to deal with them necessitated the medication.

He was originally prescribed Clonidine, which is used to treat both ADHD and high blood pressure, in the form of a pill. Since he was so young, the doctor prescribed him one-quarter of a pill at first. That was then stepped up to a third of a pill. His parents would have to cut the pills into thirds, but this was difficult because the pills would often turn to powder. The boy’s parents found a solution in that they had a specialty pharmacy make a liquid compound so that their son could ingest the proper amount of medication in a less cumbersome, more accurate manner.

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Pharmacists are human, and humans make mistakes. Whether it be because the pharmacist has such a large work-load that individual patients get lost in the mix, or because the pharmacist has other things on their mind, serious and potentially fatal pharmacy errors are a reality that patients must face. While many of these errors can be caught by the patient, a pharmacy technician, or even a nurse, there continue to be tens of thousands of reported pharmacy errors each year across the United States.

Yellow PillsHowever, according to a recent industry news article, it appears that the incidents of reported errors may be grossly underestimating the true number of mistakes made by pharmacists each year. The article notes that figures from 2013 indicate that there were between 210,000 and 440,000 pharmacy errors committed across the United States. This figure was up from an estimated 110,000 errors in 1999.

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