Articles Posted in Errors in local pharmacies

In October of last year, the parents of a young boy who suffers from a serious kidney condition discovered that the medication they had been giving their son on a daily basis was not the correct medication that had been prescribed by the boy’s doctor. According to a recent article discussing the family’s fight for justice, the pharmacy where the alleged error occurred is denying liability for the mistake, claiming that the prescription was properly filled.

According the article, the seven-month old boy was diagnosed with a serious kidney disorder at birth. Since then, he has had to undergo two surgeries and is required to take daily medication. After his second surgery, his mother filled her son’s prescription at a local pharmacy and gave her son the medication as directed.

When the mother went to the same pharmacy to refill the prescription, she noticed that the medication she was provided looked different from what she had been giving her son for the past month. Thinking that the pharmacist made an error in filling the refill, the mother brought the pills back to the pharmacy. However, the pharmacist told her that the refill was filled correctly, meaning that the initial prescription may not have been correct.

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Technological advances in medicine over the past 50 years have greatly benefited patients through the use of emerging treatments and technology-assisted procedures that allow doctors and other medical providers to provide better care to their patients faster and at a lower cost. As many parts of the medical field have rapidly progressed through the information age, certain areas of the profession continue to lag behind other industries, and this arguably prevents doctors and other medical professionals from giving their patients the best treatment possible. Medical record-keeping practices serve as an example of how the profession has not quite caught up with the rest of society, and patients can be harmed as a result.

Many Doctors Still Use the Color-Coded Charts for Patients’ Medical History

A patient’s medical history contains some of the most important information that doctors need to know before diagnosing and treating a condition or prescribing medication. The patient’s “chart” provides a place for this important information to be recorded, and it has often consisted of an actual paper chart that is physically stored for each patient at a doctor’s office (often in some sort of color-coded folder that is stored behind the receptionist). Although this system has generally worked for the last 100 years that it has been in use, it is an obsolete relic of an older time that is due for replacement.

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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.

The 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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A pharmacy’s duty to the patient generally involves ensuring that the provided medication is in accordance with what the patient’s doctor intended the patient to receive. This means taking care to be sure that the proper medication is provided to the patient in the correct dose, with the appropriate instructions. An error in any one of these areas can result in serious or fatal repercussions to the pharmacy customer.

However, a pharmacy also has a duty to the general public to obey the laws and regulations of the pharmacy industry. This includes filling only legitimate prescriptions filled out by bona fide physicians. This is especially essential in instances regarding highly sought after narcotic pain medication that is unfortunately abused by much of the population. When a pharmacy fails to live up to the expectations placed upon it by the legal system or by society in general, there are often hefty financial consequences. That is exactly what happened when CVS Pharmacy was discovered to have filled dozens of fraudulent prescriptions across several stores in the Boston area.

CVS Fills Fake Prescriptions for Painkillers

Prescription painkillers are some of the most abused prescription drugs on the market. Indeed, some hard-core drug users prefer prescription painkillers to street drugs because of the “clean” high that they provide. And, unfortunately, some people will go to incredible lengths to feed their addiction, including creating fake prescriptions.

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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.

Anyone 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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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.

However, 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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Chances are most people have heard of or read about someone being provided the wrong prescription or the wrong dose of a medication when they go to pick up their prescription from a retail pharmacy. In fact, these errors are quite common, with some estimates of the number of errors per year reaching into the millions. However, there are some things that people can do to help protect themselves against a pharmacist’s mistake.

According to a recent article, the best way to think about preventing a pharmacy error is to think about each phase in which the system can break down, potentially leading to an error. Thus, the article discusses the three main locations where a patient should take a few extra steps to ensure their safety.

At the Doctor’s Office

Knowledge is key in the doctor’s office. Knowing which drug a doctor is prescribing for a patient will help a patient be able to identify if they are provided with a different medication. However, knowing why a patient is being prescribed a medication is also important. If the doctor includes the reason for the prescription in the text of the prescription, the pharmacist is much less likely to make an error by providing the wrong medication.

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Almost all personal injury cases must be brought within a certain amount of time. The laws that set forth the specific amount of time in each type of case are called statutes of limitations. A plaintiff’s failure to bring a suit in the applicable amount of time under the statute of limitations can mean that the plaintiff forever loses the ability to bring that case.

Maryland Pharmacy Error Cases

Under Maryland law, personal injury and medical malpractice cases must be brought within either three or five years, depending on the specific circumstances of the alleged injury and when it was discovered by the plaintiff. Under the general rule, a lawsuit must be brought within three years of the discovery of the injury. However, no claims will be allowed after five years of the date of the injury.

When the “clock” starts ticking is sometimes up to interpretation. For example, in some pharmacy error or medical malpractice cases, the plaintiff’s injury is not immediately apparent. In these cases, the plaintiff will have up to five years from the time the injury occurred to bring the lawsuit. Importantly, this may be different from when the injury was discovered by the plaintiff.

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Earlier this month in New Zealand, a woman who was traveling throughout the country suffered worsening depression and potentially other long-term side effects after a pharmacist provided her with the wrong medication. According to one local news source, the woman went to see a general practice doctor who refilled her prescription of an SSRI medication used to treat her depression.

Evidently, the woman took the refill to a nearby pharmacy to get it filled. However, the filling pharmacist provided the woman with Duride instead of the SSRI medication. Duride is a cardiac medication typically used to treat angina. The error, however, was not immediately discovered. It took some time for the woman to notice a worsening in her depression. She began to once again suffer from anxiety, migraines, and heart palpitations. Her relationship broke down, and she was unable to find a job. She eventually went back to the doctor, who upon seeing the packaging of the medication she was taking, immediately knew it was not the SSRI she had been prescribed.

The doctor notified the pharmacy of the error. The pharmacist has since told reporters that there was “no explanation” for the mix-up. He also noted that, at the time of the error, the two medications had similar packaging and were near each other on the shelf. The pharmacist took full responsibility, noting that the pharmacy technician that day was not involved in the error, and he also apologized to the patient for the error.

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Late last month on Halloween, a Canadian pharmacy accidentally provided medication used to treat bipolar disorder to young trick-or-treaters who visited the store. According to one local news source that covered the story, seven children are known to have actually taken the medication in place of candy. However, all of the pills were located before they were consumed by the children.

Evidently, the pharmacy had a candy bin out on the pharmacy counter so that young trick-or-treaters could help themselves as their parents conducted their business. However, at some point in the day, a customer who was visiting the pharmacy to fill her 17-year-old son’s prescription for quetiapine and divalproex inadvertently dropped the medication on the floor prior to leaving.

Another customer, thinking she was preventing a potential mix-up, picked up the medication off the floor and put it on the counter, next to the candy bin. Shortly afterward, a pharmacy employee saw the pills sitting next to the bin and then dumped them into the candy bin. Seven of the individually wrapped pills were given out to children over the course of the day before management discovered what had occurred.

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