Justia Lawyer Rating
Maryland Association for Justice
American Association for Justice
Super Lawyers

When we visit a pharmacy to fill a prescription, we place an enormous amount of trust in the pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. We assume they will provide the correct medication in the appropriate dosage, complete with precise instructions for use. But pharmacy errors happen more frequently than one might think, and the consequences can range from minor discomfort to severe health complications, or even death.

Types of Pharmacy Errors

Wrong Medication: One of the most dangerous types of pharmacy errors is dispensing the wrong medication. With a vast array of medicines that often have similar names, this kind of error can be easily made but is wholly unacceptable.

Unfortunately, incorrect or erroneous distribution or application of medications is surprisingly present in the United States. In fact, some sources cite a rate of one in five Americans experiencing a medical error while receiving health treatment. Unfortunately, Maryland is no exception to this trend, and Maryland residents should be aware of emerging best practices in the face of the increased computerization of pharmacies and hospital medication cabinets.

Additionally, medication errors are among the most common medical errors, harming at least 1.5 million people every year. The extra medical costs of treating drug-related injuries occurring in hospitals alone are at least $3.5 billion a year, and this estimate does not take into account lost wages and productivity or additional healthcare costs, the report says. Medication error morbidity and mortality costs are estimated to run $77 billion dollars per year. Patient safety is a major public health concern.

What Are Medication Errors

According to reports, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) receives approximately 100,000 medication error reports annually. In 2010, the FDA received only 16,689, but by 2018, the agency was receiving more than 100,000 reports per year. Experts point out that medication error reports are submitted on a voluntary basis, meaning that true medication errors are likely even higher.

Are Pharmacy Errors Underreported?

Dr. Randall Tackett, a clinical and administrative pharmacy professor at the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy states “What’s reported to the FDA usually only accounts for 1 to 10 percent of what actually occurs.” Dr. Tackett went on to theorize that most medication errors result from the extreme workload that pharmacists are faced with. In an effort to combat this issue, some states have implemented prescription shift limits for pharmacists, limiting them to filling 150 prescriptions per shift. A recent news report describes a pharmacy error.

The Cost of Medication Errors

People that regularly take prescription medicine or have received prescription medication in a hospital or clinic setting can appreciate the vital importance of best practices when it comes to receiving the medicine. Whether it is at the pharmacy or in the hospital, it is essential to be aware of safety measures that could make a major difference in the care you receive. Every patient deserves peace of mind when it comes to their medications, and to live free of the consequences of medical and pharmaceutical malpractice.

Incorrect or erroneous distribution or application of medications is surprisingly present in the United States. In fact, some sources cite a rate of one in five Americans experiencing a medical error while receiving health treatment. Unfortunately, Maryland is no exception to this trend, and Maryland residents should be aware of emerging best practices in the face of the increased computerization of pharmacies and hospital medication cabinets.

Illnesses Stemming From Medication Errors

Pharmacy errors are a serious cause for concern nationwide, with thousands of Americans suffering injury, illness, or death each year because of a negligently prescribed, prepared, or filled medications. Both state and federal regulators attempt to ensure compliance with pharmacy safety standards, however the regulators often fail to hold negligent doctors, pharmacies, and employees accountable in the event of an error. This point is demonstrated in a recently published story of a boy who suffered serious complications after consuming prescribed medication that was 14x stronger than intended or labeled.

According to the recently published report, the parents of a five-year-old autistic boy were alarmed when their child started reacting poorly to a medication that had been prepared by their pharmacy. The medication in question was a compounded mixture of several medications to assist the boy with sleeping. When the parents noticed the boy going into an unconscious sleep while standing shortly after consuming the medication, the boy was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for an overdose of a medication generally prescribed for high blood pressure. The boy ultimately recovered from the overdose, but the parents suspected that an error had occurred in the preparation of the medication.

The child’s parents reported the issue to the regulatory board in charge of medication error. The couple also performed some investigation of their own, paying out-of-pocket to have the formula tested in a laboratory, which revealed the error once and for all. Armed with the information, the parents sought accountability through the regulatory body, and were disappointed when neither the pharmacy nor any of their employees were disciplined for the dangerous mistake. Unfortunately, the regulatory agencies tasked with ensuring the safety of patients throughout the country are often staffed by supporters of the medical industry, who may have been lobbied by advocates for reduced accountability for medical and pharmacy malpractice.

A recent news report details just how troublesome prescription errors by pharmacies can be, resulting in sanctions. In the state of Iowa, state regulators recently penalized a drugstore accused of destroying relevant paperwork after dispensing the incorrect medication to a customer. According to the Iowa Board of Pharmacy, in 2020 the Walgreen store dispensed the incorrect strength of insulin pens and the incorrect test strips to a patient. During an investigation the Walgreens was unable to provide some of the original documentation related to the prescription. It was determined that the prescription records had been destroyed, which is in violation of Iowa regulations. As a result, the Board of Pharmacy issued a warning and imposed a $1,500 civil penalty, in addition to requiring the store to provide two hours of educational training on patient safety to all permanent pharmacists and technicians on staff. In addition to the one Walgreens being sanctioned, at least one other pharmacy in Iowa was sanctioned for dispensing a prescription with incorrect directions which led to a customer taking a higher dosage than was prescribed. In one case, a pharmacist’s license was placed on probation after a criminal conviction.

How Does Maryland Protect Pharmacy Patients?

Pharmacy boards are administrative agencies created by state governments “to protect the health, welfare, and safety of the public through the regulation of pharmacy practice.” In large part, these entities are responsible for preventing pharmacy errors. State pharmacy boards have taken important steps to regulate and discipline pharmacies and drug laws. For example, in the state of Maryland, the Maryland Board of Pharmacy has a mission of “protect[ing] Maryland consumers and to promote quality healthcare in the field of pharmacy through licensing pharmacists and registering pharmacy technicians, issuing permits to pharmacies and distributors, setting pharmacy practice standards and through developing and enforcing regulations and legislation, resolving complaints, and educating the public.” Guidance by the Office of Inspector General in the United States Department of Health and Human Services outlines that state pharmacy boards should review the outcomes of their disciplinary process and evaluate whether they are affording the public the maximum protection.

While state pharmacy boards play an important role in regulating and disciplining pharmacies and helping protect patients, in some prescription error incidents, victims or the loved ones of victims may consider filing a lawsuit to recover damages. These suits can be complex as you navigate the laws and court system, but connecting with an experienced attorney who can help you navigate your case can be beneficial.

When medication dispensing errors happen, they can cause serious side effects and life-altering issues for patients, and in some cases, these errors can lead to death. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), each year in the United States, 7,000 to 9,000 people die as a result of a medication error, and hundreds of thousands of other patients experience but often do not report an adverse reaction. Medication errors can cause a lack of trust in the healthcare system generally and in healthcare providers. In addition, these errors have financial costs as well, with the NIH reporting that medication-associated errors exceed $40 billion each year.

According to a recent news report, a medication dispensing error in D.C. almost cost a 74-year-old woman her life. The patient had been recently released from the hospital and went to a rehab facility to recover from a blood clot. However, within weeks, the patient began complaining about swelling in her throat, prompting her family to look at what prescriptions the facility had given her. Her family members realized that the facility had dispensed the wrong medication, giving her drugs with someone else’s name on them. To make matters worse, the patient’s eldest daughter realized that the facility had given her a drug that her mother was severely allergic to. The patient was raced to the nearest emergency room just in time, as her throat was nearly swollen shut. She was put into a medically induced coma for more than a week.

Why Do Medication Dispensing Errors Happen?

Medication dispensing errors can occur for a variety of reasons, including human errors or issues with protocols that fail to prevent mistakes from happening. These reasons may include illegible handwriting, confusion over similarly named drugs or packaging, or errors involving dosing units, amongst many other reasons. In addition, if protocols and systems are not properly and effectively put in place to require that medical providers have a backup system to detect mistakes, then this can also lead to more pharmacy errors that could have possibly been avoided.

A recent news report reveals information regarding the pharmacist and technician shortage and its impact on access to healthcare. For example, in the state of South Dakota, pharmacies have been randomly reducing hours and closing the pharmacy, which has led to patients being unable to get the prescriptions they need. These pharmacy issues are happening across the country. The stress from the pandemic on the healthcare industry can be attributed to the pharmacy technician shortage and impending pharmacist shortage. Some pharmacists have no choice but to work through their lunch hour despite the pharmacy being closed to patients.

Additionally, there may be underserved areas of a state where there are only a couple of pharmacies or even one pharmacy in the entire county. For patients who depend on their local pharmacy for their medications, this can be a difficult predicament to be in if the local pharmacy can no longer remain open. In addition to pharmacists playing a pivotal role in helping patients, pharmacy technicians are essential. Technicians not only help pharmacists with administrative tasks but also assist with locating, dispensing, packing, and labeling prescriptions. In some cases, pharmacists may be paid to cover a technician shift due to the shortage. Some workers in the field believe that increasing the pay of technicians, who are now expected to do a wide array of tasks, may help with creating more interest in the position.

Pharmacy schools have also seen a drop in enrollment, which may stem from the pandemic playing a role. In addition, the pandemic causes a number of early retirements in the field. Pharmacists were essential employees, still needed even during the height of the pandemic. There’s been a decline in the number of applications that pharmacy locations are receiving, whereas, in the past, one opening would garner many interested applicants. As a result, some stores have offered sign-on bonuses for pharmacists to help recruit.

Medication error has been a leading cause of harm for patients, and an expensive cost for healthcare providers. In a digital age, some healthcare providers have implemented digital solutions to medication errors, but these digital solutions can cause doctors to receive too many alerts that lack specificity and that also cause alert fatigue for doctors. However, when science and technology combine to create a unified and efficient approach for drug administration and managing clinical decisions, it can be life-altering. A Healthcare IT News article details the importance of hospitals integrating precision medicine with digital maturity models. The digital maturity models can help technology advances that support clinical decisions. This can help prevent errors and increase efficiency, which thus can save lives and costs for hospitals. Giving users access to a single information source in a unified approach can help with drug administration and minimize alerts.

What Is a Digital Maturity Model?

Some examples of digital maturity models include from Wolters Kluwer, which built Medi-Span Clinical APIs drug data solution and expert services which helps ensure that accurate information is available at key moments rather than reported after the event, and also ensures the precision of alerts. Another example is the National Chen Kung University Hospital in Taiwan, which has used Medi-Span Clinical APIs to overcome challenges faced by pharmacists, including the challenge of the amount of time it takes to update a medication database. Medi-Span’s databases are updated regularly with best practice evidence and recommendations. Clinical APIs are for healthcare professionals only, and there are certain regulations that guide their use in various locations.

The hospital’s data shows that since implementing Medi-Span, the number of alerts has been reduced by 21% and the talerts have captured severe potential Adverse Drug Events. This resulted in saving approximately $39,200 in U.S. dollars a year, and also saved an estimated 266 bed days a year. Technology advances can allow for solutions that help prevent medication errors and help ensure that patients receive the best and safest care possible. When these errors occur but can be avoided by digital maturity, it is up to hospitals to implement unified approaches to avoid such costs.

Feeding tubes can be an essential tool used to administer medicine to patients who need it. People who have difficulty swallowing or difficulty feeding may need enteral feeding tubes. Although an essential tool, more must be done to prevent errors that occur when preparing and administering medications via enteral feeding tubes. Enteral feeding tubes allow liquid food to enter the stomach or intestine through a tube. Enteral feeding tube errors occur for a variety of reasons, including gaps in training, incorrect tube or route size, improper preparation, and utilization of the wrong administration technique.

What Are the Causes of Feeding Tube Mistakes?

In some instances, practitioners have not received the proper training associated with prescribing, verifying, prepping, and administering specific medications through feeding tubes. Knowledge may be passed down from practitioners, but there may lack a standard policy for doing so to ensure that there are no gaps in knowledge. Additionally, there are errors that occur if a prescriber selects an incorrect route, such as selecting the oral route of administration for a patient who actually requires medication via an enteral feeding tube. Improper preparation can result in adverse reactions for the patient and the practitioner. In these scenarios, if a practitioner fails to use proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and crushes a hazardous medication, this can result in toxicity or reduced efficacy of the medication. Additionally, error also occurs if the wrong administration technique is used. This includes mixing multiple medications together to give to a patient at once, failing to flush the tube before and after medication administration, and mixing medications with enteral feedings.

In order to prevent these errors, practitioners should screen for enteral feeding tube restrictions, create policies that are located in a central location for reference, and should ensure that practitioners are properly educated on how to safely prepare and administer medication. In addition, because patients will often follow the same procedure to prepare and administer medications at home, it is important to educate patients about safe practices. If you have reason to suspect that a loved one has suffered injuries due to error that occurred during the administration of medication via an enteral feeding tube, contact an experienced and skilled medical malpractice attorney today to discuss your options.

Contact Information