It is no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a major toll on the United States’ health care system. All areas of the system—from hospitals to local clinics and even pharmacies—are struggling, as staff are overworked, underresourced, and overly stressed one year into the pandemic. Of particular concern to Maryland residents are the potential impacts on pharmacists and pharmacy errors. When pharmacists are struggling, they are more likely to make careless errors and cause significant harm to patients, who may not realize the mistake until it’s too late. And, according to a recent NBC News article, pharmacists across the country are voicing concerns about the current state of their work, and what it might mean for patient safety. The most important part? These concerns started before COVID-19, and are likely to continue even once the virus is behind us as well.
According to the NBC News article, the past decade has led to an increase in work for pharmacists across the country, but fewer staff members to complete it. An estimated 155,000 pharmacists working at chain drugstores over the last decade have found themselves pushed to do more—work faster, fill more orders, and juggle a wider range of tasks—with fewer and fewer staff members. The pace expected from them is not only unmanageable but dangerous, as patient safety may suffer from pharmacists too exhausted or distracted to follow all safety protocols. NBC News spoke specifically to 31 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in 15 states, who reported on 12-hour shifts so busy they didn’t have time to go to the bathroom and on rushing to complete their job but making mistakes along the way. The pandemic has made things even worse, as pharmacists now have additional duties with COVID-19 testing, deep cleaning constantly, and vaccinating patients.
Pharmacy errors can range from small, like miscounting the numbers of pills in a bottle, to potentially deadly, such as combining drugs with dangerous interactions or administering the wrong medication at too high a dosage. Maryland residents should be on the lookout for these errors to avoid any potentially harmful consequences. Specifically, those picking up prescriptions should always make sure that the medicine is the correct one, that the dosage matches the labeling in the instructions, and that they understand when and how to take the drug. But, if an accident does occur, patients should not presume it was their fault for not checking thoroughly enough or catching it themselves. Maryland state law allows patients to hold negligent pharmacies responsible for the harm they’ve caused, and patients can recover significant monetary damages through a Maryland pharmacy error lawsuit.