Dangerous Practices at Chain Pharmacies Could Increase the Risk of Medication Error

Medication errors are unfortunate, potentially deadly incidents that affect over a million Americans annually. Medication errors are a subset of preventable medical errors, the estimated third leading cause of death in America. At pharmacies, medication errors most often occur when an incorrect medication or incorrect strength is given to a patient that does not align with their doctor’s prescription. Quickly misreading a prescription or medication label causes many of the medication errors that occur at pharmacies. Medication errors can occur at many levels within the prescription system (prescribing, transcribing, dispensing, administration, and monitoring) and pharmacists are one of the last lines of defense. A recent New York Times article exposed how the demanding working conditions for pharmacists in chain pharmacies could lead to increased medication errors for consumers.

Misread Prescriptions or Labels

When a medication error occurs, the results can be devastating. There are many disturbing examples of medication errors due to drug name confusion where patients receive a medication with a name that looks similar, but which has a very different purpose than the drug they were prescribed. The side effects of accidentally taking an unknown drug could be catastrophic. Unintentionally taking an unfamiliar drug exposes patients to increased risks of interaction with their existing medications or even their diet. Speaking to your doctor about your prescription’s name, strength, and purpose and verifying it with your pharmacist is key to reducing your risk of medication error.

Overworked Pharmacists

The role of the modern pharmacist at many chain pharmacies now includes filling prescriptions (in store as well as the drive-through), giving flu shots, answering phones, reaching out to customers for refills, contacting insurance companies, verifying illegible prescriptions with doctors, and counseling patients. The overwhelming amount of tasks can distract from the physician’s most important focuses for consumer safety–filling prescriptions correctly and counseling patients on their correct use. To increase transaction speed, high prescription volume pharmacies allow patients to bypass counseling, thus removing the direct pharmacist-patient contact. By bypassing pharmacist-patient counseling, patients can save time, but they also remove the layer of protection that a review of the purpose, strength, and regimen of the medication they are given provides.

Perverse Profit Incentives

Chain pharmacy stores have recently experienced thinning margins due to a changing healthcare landscape and increased DIR fees. Because of this, pharmacies are cutting costs by lowering staffing levels and increasing the responsibilities of their individual employees. Understaffing exacerbates the issues faced by pharmacists, as they must work longer shifts with less support. Pharmacists have also complained that chain pharmacies unfairly evaluate them on consumer behavior targets beyond their control. These goals incentivize pharmacists to sway customers into signing up for automatic refills, 90-day supplies instead of 30-day, and proactive refill requests. Even if it is not in the best interest of the customer, pharmacists are encouraged to have them sign up for these benefits since they increase the profitability of the pharmacy.

FDA Recommendations to Reduce Medication Errors

To reduce the prevalence of medication errors, the FDA monitors proposed brand names, labeling, and packaging for new medicines to minimize confusion with existing drugs. These efforts are intended to reduce the risk of a distracted pharmacist misreading a prescription or medication label, but the FDA additionally recommends consumers take the following extra precautions when filling their prescriptions:

  • Find out what drug you’re taking and what it is for. Rather than simply letting the doctor write you a prescription and send you on your way, be sure to ask the name of the drug and the purpose of the drug.
  • Check the container’s label every time you take a drug. This is especially important if you are taking several drugs because it will lower your risk of accidentally taking the wrong medicine.
  • Keep drugs stored in their original containers. Many pills look alike, so keeping them in their original containers will help know the name of the drug and how to take them. If you are having trouble keeping multiple medications straight, ask your doctor or pharmacist about helpful aids.
  • Be aware of the risk of drug/drug or drug/food interactions.
  • If in doubt or you have questions about your medication, ask your pharmacist or other healthcare provider.

If you or a loved one suffered as a result of a medication error, do not hesitate to act. Contact the team at Regan Zambri Long today for a free consultation and information about your legal rights.