When it comes to our prescriptions, we count on pharmacies to get it right. Instructions scribbled by doctors on notepads or hurriedly said by nurses and office staff while we check our calendars for follow up appointments or scrutinize our bills are hardly reliable. Instead, checking and double-checking pill bottles or printed pharmacy instructions before consuming prescription medication is often the safeguard patients use to ensure they’re not over or under consuming their prescribed drugs. When these instructions are wrong, the results can be catastrophic.
What Are the Potential Harms of a Medicine Dosing Error?
According to a recent report, a prescription for alirocumab, a drug to prevent cardiovascular events, was marked with erroneous directions. The pharmacy instructed the patient to inject “1 mg,” or one milligram, under the skin every 2 weeks. But the actual instructions were supposed to be injection of one milliliter. The instructed dosage would have been confusing and impossible to measure for a patient. While this error was fortunately realized by the patient due to the difficulty in measuring one milligram, other such errors—like transcribing a number incorrectly—could result in over or under-consumption of medications, which can lead to overdose or prolonged illness.
In this case, the error occurred because the verification by two pharmacists failed to catch the mistake. Some pharmacies do not have processes for typing directions, even though these medications should often be administered in a standardized way. Doctors provide varying instructions, and pharmacies often follow the doctors’ instructions verbatim or close to it, without verifying the units and dosage against standards for the medication. The prescription in question would have also been easier to understand had the pharmacist instructed the patient to inject one entire pen, rather than 1 milliliter or milligram, as the pen was designed to hold one dose. Pharmacies can also employ more checks to ensure patients understand how to use medications, like asking patients to repeat instructions back and confirm dosage.
In addition to simple transcription error or just confusing instructions that aren’t intuitive, fax machines can also blur numbers and letters, which can lead to dosages that become inappropriate for patients’ weight ranges or medical needs. Fax machines should be frequently maintained by pharmacies and prescribers. Failure to maintain fax machines, accurately prescribe dosages, or carefully transcribe prescription instructions can all constitute negligence on the part of pharmacists or pharmacies. And because many pharmacies have quotas, this can mean pharmacists work too quickly and make careless errors, including the dosage error described above.
Do You Need a Maryland Personal Injury Lawyer?
Negligent pharmacists who fail to prescribe with due care should be held accountable. Errors like the above are unfortunately common errors—but these errors can constitute negligence on the part of pharmacists. The attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen have extensive experience representing clients in medical malpractice and pharmacy error cases and can help you evaluate your pharmacy error claim. Lebowitz & Mzhen serves the areas of Prince George’s, Charles, Baltimore, and Montgomery Counties. To schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our team, contact us at 800-654-1949.