Articles Posted in Fatal Pharmacy Errors

Recently, an appellate court issued an opinion addressing issues that frequently occur in Maryland pharmacy error lawsuits. The lawsuit stemmed from the tragic death of a woman who received the wrong medication from her pharmacy. Evidently, the woman was treated at a hospital for fluid buildup in her lungs. At discharge, a nurse called the woman’s pharmacy, spoke to a pharmacy technician, and ordered a prescription for a diuretic. However, the technician made several errors when inputting the patient’s information, including wrong identifying information, incorrect spelling of the nurse’s name, and misspelling of several medications. However, the most egregious error was misreporting a medication and dosage. This error had severe consequences, as the patient died as a result of the incorrect medication.

The woman’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and the pharmacy, alleging damages for negligence and requesting additional damages due to aggravating circumstances. The hospital settled their claims, and the lawsuit against the pharmacy proceeded to trial. The pharmacy moved to dismiss the aggravating circumstances portion of the lawsuit. The trial court granted the motion, and the jury awarded the family two million dollars in damages; however, the amount was significantly reduced because of the applicable damage caps. The family appealed the judge’s decision to dismiss the aggravating circumstances element of their claim.

Under Maryland law, pharmacy error plaintiffs can recover damages for the injuries they sustained because of the pharmacy’s negligence. Maryland law allows plaintiffs to recover compensatory damages to make them “whole again.” There are two main types of compensatory damages, special and general. Special damages are usually tangible costs that the plaintiff incurred because of the defendant’s negligence. Whereas, general damages are those that cannot be easily quantifiable, such as pain and suffering.

Pharmacy errors frequently occur in retail pharmacies in Maryland and throughout the country. These errors are recognized as common, and experts are always coming up with new ways to reduce them. However, Maryland pharmacy errors involving mail-order prescriptions are infrequently discussed and they raise the very same concerns as retail pharmacy errors. Without having to hand a prescription to a patient in person, a prescription can be addressed and mailed to the wrong person. In a recent federal appeals court decision, the court held that the pharmacy may still be held liable in the case of an elderly patient who failed to read the labels on the medication bottles before taking the medications.

In that case, the mother was mistakenly mailed prescription medications by a mail-order pharmacy contractor. A pharmacy put in an order for prescriptions to be sent to a customer, but the contractor mistakenly shipped the package to the plaintiff’s mother. She regularly received medications by mail, and the package at issue was similar to other packages she had received. The outside of the package had the mother’s name and address, but the bottles of medication listed the other patient’s name, doctor, and medication. The mother was elderly and “barely literate,” and did not read the labels before she took the pills.

After taking the pills, the mother started to experience hallucinations and confusion. She fell and fractured her leg a few days later. She was hospitalized for the fracture, and stayed in the hospital for almost a month. She was treated for other medical issues that arose during her stay, and she died about ten days after she was discharged from the hospital.

Maryland pharmacy errors are almost all preventable. Medication errors that occur in the hospital setting are no exception. While a doctor is typically the one who prescribes a patient medication, nurses are frequently the ones who administer the medicine. Often, nurses care for numerous patients, many of which share the same symptoms, take the same medications, or have similar names. It is this potentially confusing situation that introduces the risk that a nurse can make an error in administering medication to a patient.

A recent news report detailed a pharmacy error resulting in the death of a patient. Evidently, the patient, Mrs. Cook, was in room 26. Two doors down was another patient named Mrs. Cock. Mrs. Cock was prescribed hydromorphone, a powerful painkiller that was kept in a secured cabinet in the hospital’s medication room. However, Mrs. Cook was accidentally given Mrs. Cock’s hydromorphone pills. Within nine days, Mrs. Cook died.

Two nurses were present when Mrs. Cook was given the incorrect medication. When asked about the incident, the nurse who was primarily responsible for Mrs. Cook’s care claimed that a registered nurse who was helping out was responsible for the error. He also stated that he did not see the registered nurse administer the medication to Mrs. Cook because he was busy reviewing Mrs. Cook’s chart. The nurse acknowledged that the two women were “physically quite different.” He also admitted that Mrs. Cock was able to walk while Mrs. Cook was often confused and needed assistance with most daily activities.

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.”

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.

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.

Recently, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) issued a report asking that Maryland pharmacists, as well as pharmacists across the country, take additional precautions in the wake of a fatal 2017 pharmacy error. The ISMP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the number of pharmacy errors across the United States. In furtherance of that goal, the ISMP operates a voluntary error-reporting system. The ISMP then uses this data to work with pharmaceutical companies to eliminate the root causes of common errors such as similarly named drugs, confusing packaging, and dangerous device design.

The Error

According to the ISMP report, a patient was admitted into the ICU with a headache and vision loss. An MRI was conducted, and it was determined that the patient had a hematoma of the brain. The patient was transferred, and a full-body scan was ordered. While the radiologist was explaining the procedure to the patient, the patient indicated she had claustrophobia. The radiologist requested the patient be given a dose of Versed to help with her claustrophobia.

Evidently, the patient’s primary nurse requested that a radiology nurse provide the patient with the medication. The radiology nurse declined, stating that the patient would need to be monitored after administration of the drug. The primary nurse indicated she would send another nurse to the radiology department to monitor the patient after she was given the medication.

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Medication errors are estimated to affect over 7 million people per year. While many of these errors do not result in patient hospitalization or even patient injury, the fact is that medication errors are a very real threat and patients should double-check all prescriptions for errors before taking any medication. If you have questions about possible errors with your medication, contact a Maryland pharmacy error attorney.

Most medication errors are the result of a pharmacist – either in a retail seating or in a hospital – improperly filling a patient’s prescription. However, there are other less common types of errors that patients should be aware of. For example, each year many mistakes are the result of a pharmacist’s incorrect advice.

Pharmacists’ primary role is to safely fill all prescriptions and counsel patients on their medications. However, pharmacists are also there to answer a patient’s questions regarding over-the-counter medications. Such questions are commonly based on an over-the-counter medication’s potential interactions with prescribed medication that may not have been filled at the pharmacy. Other errors involve incorrect advice regarding medication that is available in varying strengths, some of which may be available over-the-counter.

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The chances are that anyone who has dropped off a prescription or refill request to a retail pharmacy has had to wait a considerable amount of time for the pharmacist to fill the prescription. First, the patient must wait in line to drop off the prescription. Then, the pharmacist often tells a patient to come back in at least 30 minutes – sometimes even longer.

While waiting 30 or 45 minutes for a prescription to be filled isn’t a problem for most patients, the fact that a pharmacy is so busy raises some concerns for pharmacy experts. According to a recent news report discussing the prevalence of errors and what can be done to curb them in the future, it is estimated that there are approximately 100,000 deaths caused by pharmacy errors each year. The leading cause of Maryland pharmacy errors is commonly understood to be an overworked pharmacist.

The article details the startling account of a woman who was provided the wrong medication by her local pharmacy. The woman was prescribed the pain medication Gabapentin. Her physician instructed the woman to take the medication three times a day, taking two pills for each dose.

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Earlier this month, a man in a New Zealand hospital died due to opioid toxicity after he was administered what turned out to be a fatal dose of fentanyl. According to a local news report covering the story, the error was a result of system-wide failures across the spectrum of care providers.

The victim of the error was at the hospital for a routine knee surgery. The hospital had just implemented a new e-prescribing system the month before, whereby physicians could order medication at a patient’s bedside with one touch on a computer screen. The physician overseeing the victim’s care was attending to another patient when he remembered to put in an order for the victim’s medication. The physician input the medication order and then returned his attention to the other patient.

The physician, however, failed to switch the computer screen back to the patient who was with him. Thus, when the physician entered a medication order for fentanyl patches that was intended for the other patient, the order was sent to the victim’s file.

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