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Most Maryland pharmacies receive medication from a manufacturer or reseller and then fill prescriptions as patients present them. For the most part, pharmacies are not responsible for creating the medications that they provide to patients. Some patients, however, have unique needs that are not met by commercially available drugs. For example, a young child may need a very small dose of a medication that is only available in adult doses, or a patient may be allergic to a particular ingredient in a medication.

While compounding pharmacies fill a much-needed role for some patients, they also present unique risks. Generally, compounding pharmacists attempt to mimic the effects of a particular medication while making some adjustments to the formulation. Because compounding pharmacies create custom prescriptions for patients on an as-needed basis, their product is not FDA-tested or approved.

A recent news report discusses a compounding pharmacy medication error that nearly claimed the life of the patient who thought she was taking the medication as directed. Evidently, the patient suffered from a rare disease called Hashimoto’s disease, a condition in which a patient’s immune system attacks the thyroid, resulting in insufficient hormone levels. As a result of her condition, the woman was prescribed thyroid medication by her physician.

Over the past few years, local Maryland pharmacies have seen a gradual increase in the number of prescriptions that are filled each year. However, pharmacies have been slow to adjust the number of pharmacists with this increase in demand. As a result, pharmacists are dealing with increased workloads.

For quite some time, experts have agreed that as a pharmacist’s workload increases, the likelihood of an error also increases. Some believe that new technology can help pharmacists more accurately and quickly fill prescriptions. According to a recent industry news report, by using state-of-the-art technology to fill orders, pharmacists can free up nearly 90 minutes per day.

Generally, when appropriate technology is used to fill prescriptions, there seems to be a reduction in the error rate. However, some skeptics point to the learning curve that implementing new technology presents, raising a concern that patient safety may be jeopardized as pharmacists get accustomed to frequent changes in the workplace.

The idea of being given the wrong medication by a pharmacist may seem like a remote possibility for most patients; however, studies show that hundreds of pharmacy errors occur every day. While most of these errors are either caught in time or do not result in serious harm to the patient, Maryland pharmacy errors present a serious risk of illness or death.

When a patient dies from a medication error, the patient’s family can pursue a Maryland wrongful death claim against all responsible parties. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the error, responsible parties may include the pharmacist, a hospital nurse or doctor, and even the pharmacy or hospital where the error occurred.

Maryland wrongful death lawsuits must be brought by a primary beneficiary, if one exists. A primary beneficiary is defined as a husband, wife, parent, or child of the deceased. If no primary beneficiary exists, then a secondary beneficiary can bring a claim. Secondary beneficiaries are those who are “related to the deceased person by blood or marriage who was substantially dependent upon the deceased.”

For decades, Maryland medication errors have been one of the leading causes of death across the state. For about as long, the pharmacy industry has been trying to come up with ways to reduce these errors, both in terms of their frequency and seriousness. Technological advancements have played a significant role in the reduction of Maryland pharmacy errors, ranging from electronic prescribing, to automatic warning systems that indicate when a patient may be at risk for particularly dangerous interactions.

All technological advancements, however, are not without their own set of risks. In fact, there is a major concern that placing too much reliance on computer systems may prevent the next generation of pharmacists from fully understanding the nuances of their profession. This is especially a problem if a computer system crashes or is otherwise unavailable, perhaps during an emergency.

Notwithstanding the potential concerns of around the use of technology, it is perhaps the best hope to improve the healthcare system. For example, according to a recent news report, an Israeli doctor recently developed a program that is designed to catch prescription errors early on in the process, before the medication is provided to the patient. The doctor looked at how the typical prescription error occurred, noting that there were several points along the way where an error should be noticed. However, due to what he called systemic failure, these errors were routinely being missed.

It is estimated that Maryland medication errors are responsible for up to a third of all preventable deaths in the state. Thus, encouraging safer prescription practices is a paramount concern among lawmakers. According to a recent news report, there is currently ongoing debate on whether imposing criminal sanctions against medical professionals who were found to be negligent would decrease the total number of errors.

Earlier this year, we covered a tragic case involving the death of a hospital patient after he was administered the wrong medication by an attending nurse. The nurse is alleged to have disregarded hospital protocol and overlooked several errors, ultimately resulting in the patient’s death. Although the state health department decided not to revoke the nurse’s license, the local prosecuting authority recently filed reckless homicide charges against her, claiming that her conduct was criminal. If convicted, the nurse could face years in prison.

The local prosecuting authority’s decision to pursue criminal charges against the nurse has triggered a discussion regarding the possible effects that imposing criminal liability against negligent nurses or pharmacists could have on Maryland pharmacy error rates. On the one hand, patient advocates argue that more accountability would increase the amount of care that nurses and pharmacists would provide to each patient. Because the leading cause of pharmacy errors is distraction or inattention, in theory, this would decrease the number of pharmacy errors.

As pharmacies have become busier and busier over the past few decades, many suburban pharmacies have begun to offer drive-up service. For many busy patients, drive-up windows are a convenient way to drop off or pick up prescriptions, voiding the need to park and get out of the car. However, conducting such important business through a drive-up window may increase the risks of a Maryland pharmacy error.

A recent case illustrates a common pharmacy error that occurred through a drive-up window. According to an industry news source that analyzed the court’s opinion, a woman intended on picking up two prescriptions for her husband through the defendant pharmacy’s drive-up window. The woman’s husband had Alzheimer’s Disease and high blood pressure. Rather than providing the woman with her husband’s prescribed medication, the pharmacist at the drive-up window gave her alprazolam and sertraline. Both drugs were intended for a patient with the same last name as the woman’s husband.

The woman took the medication home and administered it to her husband. Within a few hours, she woke up to her husband calling her name. She found him lying on the floor, and he could not get up. There were no tripping hazards nearby. It was later determined that he sustained a broken hip in the fall.

Pharmacists and nurses have a very important job that must be taken seriously at all times. However, medical professionals are human, and it is not uncommon for a nurse or pharmacist who is comfortable doing their job to begin to engage in multi-tasking. While the ability to multi-task is seen as a good thing in some contexts, when the safety of a patient is on the line, pharmacists should keep the focus of their attention only on the task at hand. As studies have repeatedly shown, a Maryland pharmacist who multi-tasks while filling a patient’s prescription increases the risk of a Maryland pharmacy error.

Back in 2017, a woman died after she was given a lethal dose of the paralyzing agent vecuronium instead of Versed, which the doctors intended to provide her with. According to a recent news report, prosecutors released additional documentation in the 2017 case showing that the nurse made at least ten errors in the moments leading up to the time when she gave the patient the lethal dose.

Evidently, a nurse administered the lethal dose of vecuronium to the patient, who stopped breathing a short time after the medication entered her bloodstream. At the time, the nurse admitted to being involved in an unrelated conversation with a colleague when she reached for the medicine. The nurse grabbed the wrong medication and apparently failed to notice the boldface type on the packaging stating WARNING: PARALYZING AGENT.

Over the past few decades, the demand placed on Maryland pharmacies has skyrocketed. The workload of the average pharmacist has correspondingly increased. In an attempt to keep the system working efficiently, pharmacies have begun to rely more and more on technology to help with filling prescriptions. This includes checking for prescribing errors and potential adverse reactions.

One of the most notable advancements is the widespread use of electronic prescribing and medication administration. The concept behind electronic prescribing and medication administration is that doctors and pharmacists can electronically input a patient’s prescription rather than rely on a “paper trail,” as used to be the case.

As a recent article points out, however, there may be unintended consequences of the widespread use of electronic prescribing and medication administration. The study reviewed the pharmacy staff’s daily behaviors before and after the implementation of an electronic prescribing and medication administration system. According to researchers, the new system may be linked to an increase in medication errors — the study based this conclusion on several data points.

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Each time a patient is prescribed prescription medication, a physician has determined that the medicine is medically necessary for the plaintiff’s health. However, when a doctor prescribes a prescription, the doctor assumes that the medication that will ultimately be provided to the patient is exactly what they specified.

In the case of a Maryland pharmacy error, or a situation in which a medication is recalled, the medicine that a patient is provided is not what their doctor intended. As a result, there can be serious and potentially life-threatening consequences. If a patient is not given the medication that they were prescribed, the existing condition that necessitated the prescription will not be treated. This often leads to the worsening of symptoms.

Compounding the potential for injury is the fact that whatever medication the patient is provided may have been adulterated, contaminated, or contain other substances that can cause the patient injury or harm. Such a reaction may be due to an allergy, an adverse drug interaction, or an inadvertent overdose if too high a dose is provided.

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The last thing many patients think to do when picking up a prescription from their local pharmacy is to check the pharmacist’s work. However, given the startling rate of Maryland pharmacy errors, this critically important step should not be overlooked. Did the prescription provided by the pharmacist contain the correct medication? Was the dosage correct? Was the correct number of pills included in the prescription? These are just a few of the questions that patients must ask themselves when picking up a prescription for themselves or a loved one.

Of course, the burden to ensure that a prescription is accurate should not rest with the patient. And legally it does not; pharmacists have an obligation to fill all prescriptions accurately. However, because the repercussions of a pharmacy error can be so devastating, patients should do everything they can to avoid being the victim of a Maryland pharmacy error.

As mentioned above, pharmacists are medical professionals and – like doctors – they have a duty to their patients. This includes the responsibility to accurately fill all prescriptions, regardless of how long it takes. However, the realities of working in a busy pharmacy too often outweigh these practical concerns and pharmacists may fail to double-check their work for fear of getting too far behind. Not surprisingly, this drastically increases the risk of an error.

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