Articles Posted in Staff Shortages

A common theme of the last two years has been the burnout suffered by pharmacy employees, and the increase in patient risk that results from the lack of skilled, motivated, and healthy pharmacy staff. Although some symptoms of burnout, such as increased overtime, lack of retention, and mental health issues among employees are easily measurable, the actual number of error claims may not always be. A recently published investigative report demonstrates that a large increase in pharmacy error claims in the last two years has been obscured by lenient reporting requirements that keep such claims out of the public view. The pattern appears to apply nationwide.

According to the investigative report, several public records requests were used to discover that a large increase in pharmacy error claims corresponded with the labor issues related to the pandemic. The correlation serves as further evidence that the pharmacy industry is unable or unwilling to meet the industry standard of care that patients are entitled to and have come to expect. Pharmacies have little incentive to report instances of error when they are not required to, as public dissemination of such information may hurt the pharmacy’s bottom line. A pharmacy is a business after all.

Patients who are victims of pharmacy error and are hurt or killed as a result may have a significant claim for damages against the pharmacy or employees. Pharmacies are accountable for the conduct and mistakes of their employees, and if they are unable to safely staff their businesses, then they should not be operating under dangerous conditions. While the solutions to this problem may vary, the most important matter is that patient health and safety must come first. Maybe pharmacies need to pay more, maybe they need better training, maybe they need more safeguards, or maybe they need to temporarily close until the adequate standards can be met. Regardless of this, patients can expect adequate care and take legal action in the event of an error or mistake.

From March 2020 until now, the COVID-19 global pandemic has taken a toll on everyone—but especially healthcare workers. Less discussed, however, are pharmacists and the burnout they have experienced as healthcare providers, since many may assume that other frontline workers, such as physicians or nurses, are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s impacts. Pharmacists, however, have experienced similar record numbers of burnout and exhaustion during the course of the pandemic, and mistakes resulting from being overworked could injure or even kill patients.

According to a recent news report, the COVID-19 global pandemic has taken a significant toll on pharmacists, particularly as new variations of the virus continue to emerge and mutate with no signs of slowing down. For many who work in pharmacies, the work was a great fit initially because of the drive to give back and help people. Now, many pharmacists report being burnt out and exhausted from the daily demands of work, which have been exacerbated by pandemic specific tasks that added more work to each pharmacist’s already busy schedule.

Before the pandemic, for example, pharmacists mostly focused on filling prescriptions and providing a limited number of vaccines, such as the flu vaccine. Now, many pharmacists are struggling to fill up to 250 prescriptions a day while administering COVID-19 vaccines, COVID-19 tests, and manning the phones and other customers with limited staff available.

Reducing medication errors and improving patient outcomes is not a recent concern; however, the recent healthcare worker shortages have increased the likelihood of Maryland pharmaceutical errors. Improving the judicious use of prescription medications and reducing adverse reactions has been at the forefront of the public health movement. While these are legitimate concerns, they do not address the issues that stem from healthcare worker errors. Even simple errors can have long-term and disastrous consequences for a patient.

Medication errors refer to “an act that through ignorance, deficiency, or accident departs from or fails to achieve what should be done.” In the context of medication and pharmacy errors, patients maintain five “rights,” including the right medication, right dosage, right route, right time, and right patient.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Prescription Errors?

Although errors occur for various reasons, some factors enhance the likelihood and severity of a mistake, for example, poorly written communications, failure to obtain informed consent, and systemic issues within the pharmacy. Computerized systems and changing orders to plain English have helped to reduce errors. However, many pharmacies are understaffed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased demand for tests and vaccinations.

In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, many pharmacies have been stretched to their limits because pharmacists are often manning the phones, the drop-off and pick-up area in the pharmacy itself, dealing with drive-through customers, and giving out vaccinations—all at the same time.

No matter how busy a pharmacy or pharmacist team is, however, consumers should be able to trust that the medication they are receiving is correct. Because pharmacists must exercise extreme attention to detail when prescribing medication down to the type, dose, and patient who is receiving the prescription, when a mistake is made, it can often have devastating consequences. When pharmacies are especially busy and prone to mistakes, it is more crucial than ever that they are held accountable for any injuries or issues their mistakes may cause.

According to a recent local news report, a Baltimore pharmacy has temporarily stopped administering COVID-19 vaccines because its staff has been stretched to its limits. In addition to the global pandemic resulting in a greater demand for pharmacy services, a state-required audit of Maryland pharmacies has pushed already busy pharmacies to their breaking point. Although the state of Maryland offered an extension, the owner of the Baltimore pharmacy stated that holding off for a few extra weeks simply would not be enough.

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