When Pharmacists Make Dangerous Mistakes, Who is Responsible?

When Pharmacists Make Dangerous Mistakes, Who is Responsible?

pharmacy errors

When people need a prescription, they rely on pharmacies to provide that medicine. Recently, a major drug problem with pharmacies is coming to light. Pharmacists across America are greatly overworked, and that is causing them to make mistakes that are putting the health of customers at risk. Just a few of the tasks pharmacists are expected to complete each day include tending drive-throughs, answering phones, managing staff working the register, counseling patients, and calling doctors and insurance companies. While tending to all of these tasks, pharmacists are also expected to meet corporate performance metrics that, according to pharmacists, are unreasonable and unsafe. 

Effects of Pharmacist's Mistakes on Patients

In an example of what is the most devastating effect of pharmacy mistakes. A Florida woman died after being given the wrong medication. She needed antidepressants but was given a strong chemotherapy drug. These are just a few of the injuries people can suffer when they are given the wrong medication. When a person is given a drug to which he or she is allergic, that person may experience hives, swelling, fever, or even organ failure. The wrong medications can also render other medications ineffective. Not only can it cause harm and injuries, but the side effects can also create greater harm because people cannot get the benefits from the mediation they are currently taking.

How the Pharmacies May be to Blame

It is easy to assume that when a pharmacist makes a mistake, that pharmacist is to blame. After all, they are the ones that are filling the prescriptions and they should be responsible for their own actions. However, that may not always be the case. The systems and processes set up by the pharmacists are often the real cause of errors. 

CVS, which is the eighth-largest pharmacy in the country, has been accused of ignoring doctors’ instructions to limit the amount of medication that is dispensed to mental health patients. The company routinely dispenses three months of medication, which is plenty enough for at-risk patients to overdose on when they are having suicidal thoughts.

CVS and Walgreens, another major pharmacy chain in the country, also impose performance metrics on their pharmacists. This means that pharmacists receive bonuses or commission for making a certain number of phone calls to patients, for filling prescriptions quickly, for administering a certain number of immunizations to patients, and for signing customers up for 90-day supplies of their prescriptions. These are just a few of the metrics that pharmacist are measured by and that push them to conduct their job more quickly, instead of more accurately. Pharmacists also say that they are evaluated on areas that they cannot control, and contend this is a bigger problem than their tasks being tracked. 

Pharmacists could speak up or leave their jobs, but they fear retaliation or even being fired for voicing their concerns. In a survey that included 1,000 pharmacists, 60% of them said that they felt pressured to meet certain metrics. Coincidentally, approximately 60% of the respondents also worked for large chain pharmacies as opposed to independent pharmacies or hospitals. While the survey was restricted to pharmacies in Missouri, other surveys resulted in similar results. 

The Pharmacies’ Defense

While pharmacies have been facing backlash of their own, many have stated that patient safety is always their top priority and that they staff carefully to ensure accurate dispensing. They also defend certain measures, such as e-prescribing and automatic refills, saying that not only does this increase efficiency, but is also safer and takes certain tasks off of the shoulders of pharmacists.

As for the pressures that pharmacists are facing, as well as their claims that they fear retaliation, the pharmacies are denying those claims. A spokesperson for CVS has said that any time a pharmacist has a concern, they are encouraged to bring it forward and every step is taken to address that concern and correct the issue. They also stated that while mistakes are regrettable, they are also rare, though pharmacies declined to provide any data on those errors and how often they are made. No one really knows how many mistakes are made because patients who hold pharmacists and pharmacies liable typically settle legal claims, and part of that settlement agreement is that they cannot speak to anyone about the case. 

Additionally, the last study on medication errors was conducted nearly 15 years ago in 2006. That study, conducted by the Institute of Medicine, estimated that these errors injured approximately 1.5 million Americans every year. That is not surprising given that 70% of prescriptions in the country are dispensed by major chains such as Walgreens and CVS. CVS prescribes the most, capturing about 25% of the market, while Walgreens distributes prescriptions to about 20% of the patients in the country. A trade group, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, has stated that it is wrong to assume that the errors made by pharmacists are due to their workload. There is not necessarily a cause and effect relationship between the workload of pharmacists and the amount of mistakes they make. 

Holding Pharmacies Liable for Their Mistakes

When people in Illinois pick up prescriptions they typically rely upon the pharmacy to have their current prescription. People typically do not examine the label to ensure that the medication is correct and that the pharmacist provided the proper dosage. It is, however, the duty of pharmacists to ensure they are providing the correct medication, and proper dosage. Pharmacists and pharmacies have the strictest duty of care. This means that they have a heightened responsibility to ensure that they are not causing harm to their patients or anyone else.

Pharmacies must ensure that they hire pharmacists and staffers who are qualified for the job and have the necessary experience to ensure they will not cause patients harm. They must also ensure that they are not placing unnecessary stress and pressure on the pharmacists who work for them. When they do connect certain metrics with incentives, or even place pharmacists in fear of losing their jobs simply because they have not done some of the most menial tasks, such as calling a certain number of patients in a day, it places patients at risk. That is extremely negligent behavior that places profit over the safety of patients. Pharmacies often place unrealistic expectations on their pharmacists so they can dispense even more prescriptions, whether they are necessary or not, so that they can make more money. When pharmacies breach their duty of care, they are considered negligent and injured individuals can hold them liable for paying compensation.

Legal Remedies

Legal compensation can help those hurt by prescription errors recover their medical costs, lost income, a disability, pain and suffering, and more. When family members have lost a loved one due to medication error, they may be able to file a wrongful death claim to recover for their grief and sorrow, and financial losses due to the death, such as the loss of household services or the loss of the income the deceased contributed to the household. 

Claims and lawsuits filed based on medication errors are complex personal injury claims because they may fall into the legal category of medical malpractice. There are certain elements of these claims that are not involved in other types of injury claims. For example, medical malpractice cases require a certificate of merit in Illinois. This means that a qualified medical expert must sign an affidavit stating that they believe the pharmacy or pharmacist acted negligently and that the negligence was the cause of the patient’s harm. This is just one reason that anyone who needs to file a claim must speak to an Illinois pharmacy malpractice lawyer for help with their case.

Claims Can Be Complex

Another complex element of these claims regarding pharmacists and pharmacies is that it can be difficult to determine which party is responsible for the injuries that result from medication errors. Most patients do not see the pressure that pharmacists are under, and do not know that in many cases, that pressure is placed upon them by the companies for which they work. Although not every pharmacist feels this pressure or has to complete a number of tasks in a limited amount of time, it is clear that many do. It is also clear that this pressure is the cause of many medication errors, as many pharmacists fear for their jobs when they cannot meet certain demands or metrics. However, pharmacists are still also responsible for performing their jobs carefully and in a manner that will not hurt anyone. They are expected to be vigilant and careful, which could mean checking and double checking that a certain medication is filled properly and is being given to the right patient. It also means reviewing a patient’s medical history and ensuring they are not dispensing medicine that will harm the patient. When pharmacists fail in this duty and make a careless error that causes a patient harm, they can also be held liable. 

Determining Fault

Determining whether the pharmacist or pharmacy is at fault for an injury can be extremely difficult, and is just one way a lawyer can help with the extremely complicated claims. An attorney with the assistance of expert witnesses will know how to determine the liable party and how to hold them accountable for paying the compensation victims of medication errors need. A lawyer will conduct a full investigation into not only the specific acts of the case, but also the policies and procedures of the pharmacy to determine if the pharmacist was under extreme pressure, working long hours without a break, which would violate the employment laws in Illinois, and uncover other factors that contributed to the mistake. During this investigation, an attorney can discover whether the pharmacy or pharmacist was at fault for the medication error. 

There are many other tasks a lawyer will complete while working on an injury case, as well. They can communicate with the pharmacy on the injured individual’s behalf to learn more about the medication error and how it happened. During their investigation, a lawyer will also collect documents and other evidence to support and prove the claim so the injured individual receives the full amount of compensation needed to make a full recovery. A lawyer will be able to determine if the pharmacy or pharmacist has made similar mistakes in the past, which is a good indicator of who was at fault for the error. Attorneys also understand how to complete some of the most complex tasks, such as working with laboratory services to collect evidence on the contents of the drug that was given. Of course, like in any injury case, a lawyer will also ensure that victims of medication errors follow the procedural rules and laws that govern personal injury claims so those hurt can claim the full settlement they need.

Our Chicago Pharmacy Malpractice Attorneys can Help With Your Case

No one should be subject to the mistakes of a pharmacy or pharmacist. These errors can cause severe injuries, and when they do, victims can file a claim for compensation. If you have been injured by a medication error, our Chicago pharmacy malpractice attorneys at the Blumenshine Law Group can help. We know how to determine who was liable for your injuries and how to hold them accountable for paying the compensation you need to make a full recovery. If you have been injured, call us today at (312) 766-1000, email us at info@blg-legal.com or contact us online to schedule a free case evaluation with one of our attorneys.