Articles Posted in Pharmacy Errors in the News

The nursing community has been on edge awaiting the sentencing of Radonda Vaught, a former Tennessee nurse who was recently convicted of negligent homicide for her role in the death of a patient she was treating at a nursing home. Criminal prosecutions for medication errors are rare, and generally reserved for situations where the conduct of the defendant was grossly negligent, egregious, and preventable. A national news source recently published an article discussing the sentence that the former nurse Ms. Vaught was given, as well as the case as a whole and the effect that Vaught’s prosecution may have on the nursing home industry.

According to the facts discussed in the news report, Ms. Vaught was convicted of negligent homicide in March of 2022 based on the death of a patient she was caring for in 2017 at a nursing home. The jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Vaught was criminally negligent when she inadvertently gave her patient a tranquilizer instead of an anti-anxiety medication (the medications had similar sounding names). The dose of the tranquilizer that was given by Ms. Vaught to her patient was unsafe, and ultimately resulted in the patient’s death. The prosecution argued that serious criminal penalties were warranted because several warning signs were ignored, and Ms. Vaught overrode an automated medication dispensing system that would have prevented the mix-up.

After considering arguments from both sides, as well as testimony from the widower and children of the deceased patient, the judge decided to sentence Ms. Vaught to three years of probation in lieu of prison time. Although Ms. Vaught will avoid prison, she has already faced serious consequences for her mistake, as her nursing license was recently revoked based upon the incident. The article noted that the children of the deceased patient testified that their mother was a very forgiving person, and would not want Ms. Vaught to serve prison time for her mistake.

Economic factors have combined with the Covid-19 pandemic to make employment shortages in Maryland and Virginia a reality in many industries today. The medical industry is likely the most affected industry by these staffing issues, as the pandemic-related risks and responsibilities have made jobs in the medical field less desirable. Pharmacists and other pharmacy employees have been suffering from increased symptoms of burnout, as the stress and responsibility of a job in a pharmacy can be too much to handle in these times.

A recently-published article in a national pharmacy trade journal discusses the effects that staff burnout and understaffing have had on the industry, as well as the risks to patient health that will be assumed if nothing is done to address the shortages soon. According to the article, pharmacies were facing staffing issues even before the pandemic hit, and the effects of the pandemic and the broader economy have exacerbated the problems, with dangerous results. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, pharmacies have been a primary site for testing people for the virus. The surge in demand for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians was never quite met, and pharmacists have had a difficult time staffing their locations adequately.

With pharmacies understaffed, and remaining staff facing increased stress, hours, and workload; it is the patients who ultimately suffer. Overworked pharmaceutical assistants and technicians have been unable to spend enough time with the pharmacy customers to address their concerns with medication and screen for possible mistakes. As time moves forward and the staffing shortages continue, it is becoming even more difficult to retain employees, as many are leaving the industry entirely to seek out better opportunities.

During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of quality medical personnel and staff was amplified more than ever.

Pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and hospitals, however, were incredibly busy places even before the pandemic, where medical professionals are often overworked and frequently understaffed. Because overwhelming demand and limited supply can create longer hours and higher pressure working environments for our medical professionals, mistakes often happen. Most commonly, mistakes take place when administering or prescribing medication to patients, which can have deadly consequences.

According to a recent news report, a federal jury found three of the country’s largest pharmacy chains liable for contributing to the opioid crisis in two counties. The verdict was the first time that the retail arm of the drug industry has ever been held accountable in what is now a decades-long opioid epidemic. In this case, the plaintiffs argued that major retailers CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart had turned a blind eye to suspicious opioid orders for years. At both local pharmacies and corporate headquarters, the plaintiffs argued, oversight requirements in all three major retailers failed to take red flags into account, which led to the pharmaceutical companies contributing to the creation and sustained nature of the opioid public health crisis.

Pharmacy staff members are reporting unprecedented levels of burnout across the country, according to one recent article. In the article, leaders in the pharmacy field explain the negative effects that burnout can have on patient safety—an impact that may be felt among Maryland pharmacy patients who may suffer from Maryland pharmacy errors. Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, a low sense of personal accomplishment, cynicism, and depersonalization. It can happen in any profession, but in the pharmacy field, where it can affect pharmacists and other staff, its effect can result in increased medication errors. A 2018 study found that 53 percent of the health system pharmacists reported a high degree of burnout. One chief pharmacy office reported that record-high hospital volumes and pharmacy technician shortages have been challenges for the field. Another noted that studies have shown that burnout is linked to medical error and medication errors.

Victims of Maryland pharmacy errors can file a claim against the pharmacy or other people or entities responsible for the error. Individuals who may be liable for the error include the doctor who ordered the medication, the pharmacy technician who dispensed the medication, and the pharmacist who provided the medication. Entities may also be liable including pharmacies, healthcare groups, and hospitals. Someone who has been injured because of a medical error has to show that the defendant acted or failed to act in some way that caused the plaintiff harm. A plaintiff has to prove that it is more likely than not that the harm the plaintiff suffered was caused by the defendant’s conduct. This means that a plaintiff must prove both that the defendant’s wrongful conduct was the actual cause of the plaintiff’s harm and also that the harm that occurred was sufficiently foreseeable so that the defendant should be held liable for its wrongful conduct.

How Long Do You Have to File a Maryland Medication Error Lawsuit?

Maryland medication error lawsuits generally have to be filed within three years of the victim’s injury, though there are exceptions in some cases. Consulting with an attorney as soon after the injury is advisable though, as evidence can disappear with time and many cases require a lot of investigation prior to filing the claim—such as finding out who the proper defendants are and gathering evidence of fault and of damages. Patients who file successful medication error claims may be able to recover financial compensation for damages. Compensation for damages may include past and future medical treatment, lost wages, psychological suffering, pain, and more.

Victims of a Maryland medication error may be able to recover financial compensation through filing a civil claim against the people and entities responsible for the medication error, such as a pharmacy or a medical provider. Filing a civil claim against those responsible (generally through a negligence claim) includes investigating, preparing, and filing the claim in court. Some defendants may choose to settle the case, while others may proceed to trial. In a successful claim, a victim may be able to recover a range of damages.

What Are the TYpes of Damages in a Maryland Pharmacy Error Case?

Generally, damages fall into two categories: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are damages with a fixed dollar amount, whereas non-economic damages do not have a fixed value. Examples of economic damages are past and future medical treatment, lost income, transportation costs, and physical therapy treatment. Examples of non-economic damages are pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of companionship, and loss of parental care. Both economic and non-economic damages are considered “compensatory” damages—intended to compensate the victim for the losses the victim suffered. There is a cap on non-economic damages in injury cases in Maryland, though there is no cap on economic damages, and more can be recovered in some instances.

In certain cases, punitive damages are appropriate. Punitive damages are reserved for cases in which the defendant acted with actual malice or with deliberate wrongdoing. They are meant to serve as a punishment for the defendant and as a deterrent for others. At trial, the victim has to prove all of the damages they are claiming. Generally, a plaintiff has to prove all damages under the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, but punitive damages must be proved by the higher standard of “clear and convincing evidence.”

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.

Why Is There a Shortage of Pharmacists?

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.

Amazon is one of the most valuable companies in the United States, and is getting even more and more utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Americans order an increasing amount of things online, from groceries to pet supplies, books, and décor. Now, Maryland shoppers may be able to get one more thing from this giant retailer: their prescriptions. Last month, Amazon announced the launch of Amazon Pharmacy, a delivery service for prescription medications. The service would allow Amazon customers to purchase prescription drugs with or without health insurance, which Amazon claims will save them money, up to “80 percent off generic and 40 percent off brand name medications when paying without insurance.” Is is unclear, however, how Amazon Pharmacy could impact the prevalence of Maryland pharmacy errors.

While the potential savings on drug prices sound great, experts say that Amazon Pharmacy is likely not going to be a game-changer when it comes to the high cost of prescription medications.  Customers may enjoy some savings, but this online option is likely to work similarly to other online pharmacies and cannot solve the large and complicated problem of U.S. drug pricing. Still, professionals are watching to see what impact Amazon Pharmacy has and how many Americans utilize it for their medications.

Maryland pharmacy errors are a persistent problem, sometimes causing severe injury or illness. And, unfortunately, anyone who has ever ordered something online can tell you that online shopping does not always go off without a hitch—sometimes the wrong product or item can be sent, items can be swapped with others, or a package could get lost or never arrived. Pharmacy safety advocates should watch closely to see whether or not Amazon Pharmacy falls prey to the same errors that occur in pharmacies every day. It’s very possible that pharmacy errors continue to plague Maryland patients, regardless of where they get their prescription.

The COVID-19 pandemic had changed the lives of almost every American in too many ways to count. Among those who have been the most impacted by the pandemic are medical workers, including pharmacists. Pharmacies have seen surges in volume as more people are more frequently visiting doctors and obtaining prescriptions for all types of health conditions. As the demand on pharmacists increases, so does the risk of a Maryland pharmacy error.

The Institute of Safe Medication Practices has released a list of tips that pharmacists should follow to decrease the risk of error during these challenging times. The tips are broken down into three categories:

Preventing Pharmacy Errors

When it comes to preventing Maryland medication errors, the Institute of Safe Medication Practices recommends pharmacists take the following steps:

  • Keep certain IV infusions standardized to a single concentration or dose, when possible.
  • Use visually identifiable premixed solutions for common infusions.
  • When dispensing a nonstandard concentration or a paralyzing agent, be sure to clearly label these infusions.
  • Implement frequent safety meetings and create processes for pharmacy members to double-check solutions before administering infusions.

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COVID-19 tests are now available for free at many Maryland pharmacies throughout the state. Maryland pharmacies conducting COVID-19 testing include CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart, as well as some local independent pharmacies. However, the use of testing at these pharmacies raises questions about adequate staffing, particularly after such issues were raised prior to the pandemic.

According to a recent news source, Walgreens Pharmacy reported a coding error that resulted in incorrect COVID-19 testing data. The error meant that around 59,000 COVID-19 test results would be added to the state’s statistics that were not previously reported. It was not clear how many of those tests were positive and what brought about the error. According to the Department of State Health Services, there were previous issues with reporting that have caused additional issues with the state’s statistics. The state said that additional data was being reported from July when a private testing lab did not correctly report about 250,000 positive tests. The state was trying to separate the data and send the information to the appropriate county. The state reported a delay in reporting due to the errors.

The report of the pharmacy error comes just a month after CVS was fined for medication errors and under staffing. The Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy fined the company last month after a report earlier this year that the company understaffed its pharmacies, putting patients at risk. The state pharmacy board subsequently launched an investigation and imposed $125,000 in fines. The COVID-19 testing being carried out by the pharmacies may be further burdening pharmacies and overworked pharmacists, potentially leading to medication errors and putting patients at greater risk.

Testing for COVID-19 has ramped up in recent months. While initially, tests were hard to come by, today most Maryland pharmacies are conducting tests, making them widely available. However, the surge in testing has resulted in a corresponding increase in the number of experts who are concerned that tests are providing people with false-negative results. Given the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, false negatives have the potential to cause a resurgence in the virus, putting everyone at risk.

According to a recent news report, 12 people who were tested at a Walgreen’s pharmacy were initially told that they were negative for COVID-19, only to learn later that was not the case. Evidently, the erroneous results came out of Delaware, where the local government had an agreement with Walgreen’s. In all, Walgreen’s collected over 2,900 samples at drive-up testing sites.

The tests appeared to be accurate, and the problem was not with the reliability of the test. In fact, the state Department of Health reviewed each of the Walgreen’s tests for accuracy and confirmed that “no patients who tested negative were given incorrect results.” However, 12 patients were called and told that they tested negative when, in fact, they had tested positive. The report notes that the error did not occur at the local Walgreen’s stores, implying that the lab may have been responsible for the errors.

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