Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog

Almost everyone has been to the pharmacy to fill a prescription at some point in their life. In fact, many people routinely visit the pharmacy each month to get their regular prescriptions filled for maintenance medications. Some of these frequent pharmacy customers have many different prescriptions of which the pharmacist must keep track. And in the case of some HIV patients, the varying doses of the prescribed medication adds yet another element for pharmacy staff to handle.

Assorted PillsNo matter how complex a patient’s prescription order may be, pharmacists are required to take their time with each order, ensuring that it is properly filled and labeled. In the case of some patients with complex prescription orders, like those diagnosed with HIV, this may mean a significant amount of work for the pharmacist, including fielding constant updates from a patient’s care providers about the patient’s status and current prescription requirements. With this increased workload, unfortunately, comes an increased chance that an error will be made.

HIV Patients Are Especially at Risk for Medication Errors

According to a recent article by an industry news source, a study may have come up with a way that can decrease the likelihood of medication errors in HIV patients. As with other illnesses, the transitional time between care providers is the most dangerous time for HIV patients. The premise of the study was simple:  increase the amount of face-to-face contact the pharmacist has with the patient. Specifically, the pharmacist would be present at the patient’s admission to the hospital as well as each day for some defined period.

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When someone is admitted to the hospital, they generally have a dedicated team of doctors and nurses attending to their every need. Hospital staff is in charge of writing prescriptions, filling them, and then administering the medication to the patient. However, the transitional period following a patient’s discharge from the hospital is another matter, when patients are often left on their own to ensure that the care and medications they receive outside the hospital are congruent to those that are received while under the hospital’s care.

Pills in HandThe transition period between hospital care and outpatient care is a critical time during which medication errors often occur, according to one recent news article. In fact, this is seen as one of the most dangerous times for patients, who will likely be treated by a new team of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists.

The Sad Story of One Patient’s Experience with Hospital Discharge

Mrs. Oyler was admitted to the hospital after she was experiencing congestive heart failure. She was treated at the hospital, where she was prescribed eight new prescriptions. Upon her discharge from the hospital, the pharmacist overseeing the transition failed to accurately document all eight of the new prescriptions, leaving one off the list. The medication was called “metolazone.”

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Pharmacy errors are more common than most people realize, with approximately 7,000 deaths each year being attributed to medication errors. Many of these medication errors occur at retail and hospital pharmacies, where busy pharmacists scramble to fill thousands of prescriptions each day. Even a good-hearted and well-intentioned pharmacist can get overwhelmed by the workload and make a seemingly small mistake that can have enormous consequences for the patient.

Pills in HandSeveral pharmacies in Vermont are trying to do things a little differently in hopes of decreasing pharmacy errors. According to a recent NPR article, at least two pharmacies in this state are putting together daily packets of medication for their patients so that the patient does not need to open the pill bottles, which may number in the dozens, and keep track of the medication themselves. The packets are prepared 30 days in advance so that a patient can get all their prescriptions for the month in one trip to the pharmacy. The patients who receive this service are mostly elderly and take between 15 and 20 pills per day.

Of course, this system does give rise to concerns about accuracy. One pharmacist explained that a patient he was caring for recently went into the hospital and was taken off a certain cardiac medication. However, the pharmacy was not notified and ended up providing the patient with the pill, even though the provider had stopped prescribing the medication. The pharmacist, seeing this as a big problem with the system, also addresses this concern. Through increased communication with their patients’ medical care providers, pharmacists try and keep up to date with patients’ prescriptions so that a patient’s daily packets do not result in non-prescribed medication being provided to the patient.

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Medication errors are a major cause of serious injury and death in the United States. In fact, it is estimated that at least 7,000 Americans die each year due to medication-related issues. Many of these are due to patients being provided the wrong drug or wrong dose by their pharmacist. Of course, the pharmaceutical industry and pharmacies themselves are strictly regulated by the United States government, but it is largely left to the individual pharmacist how they go about doing their job on a day-to-day basis. While some pharmacists certainly implement fail-safe protocols to ensure they are error-free, others are more fast and loose, creating an increased risk of a serious or fatal medication error.

diet-pills-1328802_960_720The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the government body responsible for the oversight of pharmacies nationwide. According to one industry news source, the FDA has recently issued specific protocols for pharmacists and drug manufacturers to follow so that they can reduce the chance of causing a serious pharmacy error.

One of the issues the FDA sees as a major problem is the fact that many medications with vastly different purposes share similar names. This can lead to a situation in which a busy pharmacist inadvertently grabs the wrong medication and provides it to a patient. To help alleviate this, the FDA recommends that pharmacy staff should “write down the prescription and then read back the medication name, strength, dose, and frequency of administration for verification.”

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Whenever a person is injured after using a dangerous product, they are able to file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer, and potentially others in the chain of commerce who handled the item. In the case of dangerous medical products, sometimes there are many people who suffer the exact same or very similar injuries. In these cases, a class action lawsuit may be the best option for the injured patients.

pregnant-1435168Class Action Lawsuits in General

Generally speaking, class action lawsuits are beneficial for plaintiffs because they allow a large group of plaintiffs to argue their case together. Of course, this can save on legal costs, and it can also help the individual plaintiffs in their negotiations with the defendant manufacturer. However, class action lawsuits are not always appropriate.

One of the biggest hurdles to proceeding with a class action lawsuit is “certifying” the class. Before a class of plaintiffs can proceed against a defendant in a single case, the court must certify them as an official class. There are many requirements in order for a class to be certified, but one commonly argued issue is whether the injuries are similar.

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Drug manufacturers make billions of dollars each year from marking up medications that cost mere pennies to make but are often sold for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. While the manufacturing cost of most medication is relatively low, the reason consumers end up paying a high price for prescription drugs is based on other behind-the-scenes costs, including research and development as well as the cost of a potential problem with the drug resulting in a recall or significant lawsuit against the manufacturer.

drugs-ii-1505930Indeed, all pharmaceutical manufacturers have a duty to ensure that the product they release into the stream of commerce is safe when taken as advised by the company or a physician. Of course, companies may not necessarily always be held liable when an injury results from the abuse of one of their medications. However, when a medicine is taken properly, and an unanticipated adverse effect results due to unsafe manufacturing, the manufacturer may be liable to patients who suffered as a result. These cases are called product liability lawsuits, and they are commonly brought against the manufacturers of dangerous medications.

Proving a Product Liability Lawsuit

As with all personal injury lawsuits, it is the plaintiff’s burden to prove a product liability case. However, pharmaceutical manufacturers may be held to the legal standard of “strict liability” when it comes to a dangerous product. Under a strict liability theory, the plaintiff does not need to show negligence on the part of the manufacturer and must only show that the dangerous drug manufactured by the defendant was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. There are several types of product liability lawsuits, however, and an attorney should be consulted for specific advice.

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Whenever a patient is given the wrong prescription, or even the incorrect dose of a prescribed medication, the results can be devastating, depending on the medication provided as well as the individual patient. Children and the elderly are at a heightened risk for developing serious or fatal symptoms after a pharmacy error, so it is especially important that these individuals are hyper-vigilant when it comes to double-checking their pharmacist’s work.

medications-342456_960_720Anyone who has been to a pharmacy recently likely agrees that pharmacists are busy people. They are often responsible for hundreds – if not thousands – of prescriptions each day, often involving similarly named medications prescribed for drastically different ailments. It is only natural that every now and again a pharmacist will mix up two patients’ medications, or inadvertently grab the wrong medication and provide it to the patient.

When these mistakes happen, most of the time they are caught before a serious injury results. However, elderly patients with many prescriptions may forget to double-check the medication prior to taking it. If a serious injury occurs as a result, the pharmacy where the prescription was filled may be held liable in a Maryland pharmacy error lawsuit. Of course, pharmacists don’t make these mistakes on purpose, but when an oversight is made, it is the patient who pays the price.

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While many pharmacy errors are the result of an overworked or distracted pharmacist who provides the patient with the incorrect drug, there are a certain number of errors made each year due to prescription drugs being mis-labeled or mis-packaged by the drug’s manufacturer. In these cases, it is likely that the pharmacist on duty double-checked the prescription and provided the patient what he or she thought to be the correct medication, but due to a mistake that occurred before the pharmacist ever had control of the medication, the patient was provided with the wrong medication.

contraceptive-pills-849413_960_720Of course, drug manufacturers have a duty to properly package their products, as well as to include all relevant and necessary warnings on the packaging. When a drug leaves the manufacturer’s control with incorrect labeling, there is often little other parties can do to catch and fix the error. There are some circumstances, however, in which such an error will not likely excuse the pharmacist, and these are when the pharmacist has the occasion to see the unpackaged medication or is otherwise made aware of the error.

Not all packaging errors result in the patient being provided the wrong medication entirely. In fact, according to one recent news report, mis-packaged birth control medication resulted in over 100 unplanned pregnancies. According to one news source reporting on the 2011 recall, the order of the pills was reversed in the packaging. This resulted in a much higher chance of pregnancy.

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When most people think of a pharmacy error, they picture it occurring in a retail pharmacy or a pharmacy located in the back of a grocery store. However, a significant portion of the millions of pharmacy errors that occur each year nationwide happen in a hospital setting. One may think that a pharmacy error occurring at a hospital is less dangerous and less likely to result in serious injury or death because the patient is already at the hospital; however, the statistics indicate that is not the case.

medicine-848503_960_720When a hospital patient is provided the wrong medication by a nurse, it is most likely the pharmacy that is to blame because the nurse is usually just following the doctor’s instructions to give whatever medication the pharmacy provides to the patient. While it is certainly incumbent on the nurse to double-check the label on the drug they are about to provide to the patient, if the pharmacy creates an incorrect label for the medication, there is nothing the nurse can do to know there is an issue. In these cases, the hospital as well as the pharmacist may be liable for any injuries caused by their negligence.

Hospital Pharmacy Error Claims One Woman’s Life

Earlier this month in Oregon, the family of a woman who was killed when she was provided the incorrect medication while in the hospital reached a confidential settlement with the hospital where the error occurred. According to one local news source, the woman’s doctor prescribed her an anti-seizure medication to be administered intravenously. However, the hospital pharmacy made an error and provided the woman’s nurse with a paralyzing agent instead.

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Prescription drugs can be dangerous. Indeed, that is exactly why the government does not allow for them to be purchased over-the-counter and requires that a patient be prescribed the medication by a physician and then must pick up the medication at a pharmacy. The intent of creating a system like this one is that there are several lines of defense against a patient taking a medication that could be harmful to their health.

pills-1417417However, sometimes pharmacists make mistakes. The seriousness of pharmacy errors varies, but in many cases long-term and irreversible damage is caused by taking a non-prescribed medication. In other cases, a patient may die because of the side effects they experience from the prescribed drug or from the body’s reaction to not getting the medicine that they were prescribed. In these cases, the victim’s family may be able to pursue a case against the responsible pharmacist through a wrongful death lawsuit.

Wrongful death lawsuits seek compensation for the loss of a loved one due to a negligent action of another party. These cases are brought on behalf of the deceased, usually by a family member of the victim. In fact, one of the requirements of a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit is that it be brought by the proper party. Here in Maryland, that means that the lawsuit must be filed by a spouse, parent, or child of the deceased, if one exists. This category of people is called primary beneficiaries. If no primary beneficiary exists, then a secondary beneficiary may file the lawsuit. Establishing who qualifies as a secondary beneficiary can be tricky, but generally speaking that person must be related to the deceased by blood or marriage, and must have relied on the deceased for financial support.

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