Pharmacists And Medical Negligence: Important Information For Patients And Families

Most people think of medical negligence in terms of a hospital or doctor's failure to conform to community standards of appropriate care -- but what about your pharmacist's obligation? 

Pharmacists are also medical providers, even though most people don't think of them as such. They actually have extensive medical training and are held to a high standard of care in order to obtain their position behind that pharmacy counter. And, just like any other medical provider, they can also be held liable when they commit an act of negligence that harms their patients. 

How common are medication errors?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, an estimated 1.3 million Americans are harmed through medication mistakes each year. Around 7,000-9,000 people die each year through such errors.

Given that there are almost 6,800 different medications available in the United States and even more over-the-counter (OTC) drugs available, it's understandable that mistakes happen. But some of the mistakes are preventable. Negligence occurs when a pharmacist doesn't follow proper procedures or makes a mistake that could have easily been avoided with due diligence.

What kind of mistakes do pharmacists commonly make?

Many of the mistakes that pharmacists make come from rushing through a task or allowing distractions to take over. Some of the most common pharmacy mistakes (which can occur in a drug store setting or in a hospital pharmacy alike) include:

  • Giving one patient another patient's medication because the pharmacist didn't carefully check the patient's birth date and name against the prescription. (For example, giving "John Smith" the heart medication that belonged to a different "John Smith.")
  • Giving a patient the wrong drug because it has a similar name to the drug that was actually prescribed. For example, giving a patient Valtrex instead of Valcyte because the pharmacist misread the prescription. 
  • Giving a patient the wrong dosage of a medication. For example, a pharmacist might give a patient a 5 mg dose of Klonopin, a benzodiazepine that can cause an overdose, when the patient was supposed to receive a 0.5 mg dose.
  • Giving a patient the right drug, with the wrong dosage directions. For example, telling a patient to take 3 pills every hour of a certain medication instead of one pill every 3 hours.
  • Making a compounding error when mixing a specialty drug at a compounding pharmacy. Pharmacists who make compound drugs to order have to be particularly careful that they don't mistakenly add the wrong amounts, under-mix the drug, or leave out something important.

These aren't the only possible acts of negligence that a pharmacist can commit, so don't hesitate to ask questions of a medical negligence attorney if you suspect that a pharmacy error led to your injury or a close relative's death.