When it comes to medical malpractice, most people think only of lawsuits against doctors and hospitals accused of failing to provide proper care. Some may also include cases involving major drug companies that put an unsafe product on the market. A significant, but largely unrecognized, health care provider who plays a big role in ensuring or harming patients' health is the pharmacist.
Suits against negligent or irresponsible pharmacists are increasing, however. So what exactly is pharmacy malpractice, and how prevalent is it?
Just like every other person involved in providing health care, pharmacists have high duties to make sure every patient receives the correct medications and is informed how to properly use the drugs. Often, the pharmacist dispensing the medication manufactured by a company and prescribed by a doctor or nurse is the only helath care provider who has access to the patient's complete treatment history, all the information on a drug's potential side effects and interactions and access to the patient immediately before he or she takes the medication. That "last line of defense" role is especially important because pharmacists shoud be able to counsel and, when necessary, train patients on how to take tmedications safely. Unfortunately, pharmacists might behave negligently — just like any other health service provider:
Negligence in Compounding Medications
While the days of pharmacists actually producing most of the medications you need are gone, some dosage forms can only be made in pharmacies. This is especially true for lquid medications, when pharmacists have to prepare I.V. bags or make an exliri out of drug that usually comes in pill or capsule form. Such reconstituting can be error-prone, and pharmacists who mix or compound medication incorrectly can be liable for negligence.
Negligence in Dispensing Medications
This is the case of the pharmacist simply handing you the wrong medication, the wrong dosage of the correct medication or the right drug with the wrong label containing incorrect instruction on when and how to take it.
Negligence in Teaching and Counseling
One of the most important roles for a pharmacist is helping patients understand what their medications can do if they take the drugs at right time and in the correct dose, what can happen if they miss doses or take too much, what side effects they might experience, what foods or activities they need to avoid while taking the medications, and how all tehir medications interact. Inadequate or incorrect correct is commonly cited in pharmacy negligence cases.
Negligence in Supervision
Often, pharmacists in busy practices must rely on pharmacy technicians and assistants to fill prescription orders and hand drugs to patients. While those individuals have training, nothing can replace the knowledge and experience of a pharmacist, and they must be supervised at all times. Failure to provide adequate supervision to pharmacy staff can constitute negligence by a pharmacist.
With all of the possible places that a pharmacist might misstep, it is not surprising that pharmacy errors are a huge contributor to adverse health outcomes. In fact, nearly 1.5 million Americans suffer from pharmacy medication errors each year, costing the U.S. Health care system nearly $3.5 billion. Some experts believe that as we become more dependent on medications to enjoy long, productive live — and as pharmacists have more responsibilities for patients' well-being — those numbers will increase. That means pharmacy malpractice is something we can’t afford to ignore.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.