According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 82 percent of Americans take at least one medication. About 29 percent of Americans take five or more medications. With these high statistics, the propensity for injury due to pharmacy malpractice is high. There are about 700,000 emergency room visits every year due to adverse drug events. If patients suffer injury as a result of pharmacy malpractice, compensation may be due for costs sustained as a result of the malpractice.
Pharmacy malpractice cases bear similarities to most types of medical malpractice. To prove a malpractice claim, the victim must show that the pharmacy owed a duty of care, that the duty was breached, and that the breach resulted in injury. This is considered to be a negligence claim.
Pharmacist Duty of Care
Pharmacists owe patients a duty of care to ensure that prescriptions are filled correctly and that the directions regarding dosage are correct. Many patients that receive medication are sick, so a simple error can have life-threatening consequences. Pharmacists also have a responsibility to ensure that patients are not given medications that may have adverse reactions when combined. In addition to these responsibilities, pharmacists are accountable for warning patients of all known dangers and side effects that are associated with a particular drug.
Effects of Pharmacy Errors
Pharmacy errors may result in patient harm through overdosing on medication, not taking enough medication, or taking the wrong medication. Research shows that as many as 10 percent of prescriptions are filled in error. The effects of pharmacy errors may vary widely depending on the patient’s condition and the type of medication.
Examples of adverse effects that have happened due to pharmacy malpractice include:
- Patient death due to overdose as a result of incorrect dosage directions
- Decreased patient life span due to inadequate amount of daily cancer medication
- Child suffered early puberty due to wrong medication given
- Child death as a result of diabetes medication given instead of ADHD medication
Reasons for Pharmacy Errors
The pharmacist industry is under intense pressure to fill prescriptions quickly. With a rapidly increasing demand for prescription medications, pharmacists often have to fill many prescriptions in succession. Pharmacists also work long hours in many cases, leading to fatigue that increases the likelihood of errors. In addition to these stressors, pharmacists are expected to provide adequate counseling to each patient. Patient counseling is often missed with the pressure to fill prescriptions more quickly, which is the last point at which errors may be caught.
Since victims must prove that pharmacy malpractice caused injuries, pharmacists often use a lack of causation as a defense. The success of this defense depends entirely on the details of the case. If a patient did not take the medication as directed, lack of causation may be a successful defense. This may also be successful if the patient’s illness or injury does not match what would have happened as a result of medication errors.
Standard of Care
Pharmacists may use the defense that an error was not pharmacy malpractice because the pharmacist exercised reasonable care in the situation. The success of this defense may vary by the experience level of the pharmacist and the specific scenario. If a new and inexperienced pharmacist fails to catch an error that might be expected of a pharmacist with little experience, it may not be considered malpractice. However, if a more experienced pharmacist makes the same error, it may be considered pharmacy malpractice.
When pharmacists use an affirmative defense, the pharmacy admits that there was an error, but argues that external factors contributed to the injury. One of the most common affirmative defenses is comparative negligence. This defense claims that the patient contributed to his or her own injury in some way. A comparative negligence defense may be successful if the patient was verbally warned of drug dangers that weren’t placed on the label, but ignored the warning and was injured as a result. Comparative negligence rarely excludes the pharmacy from liability but may decrease the amount of damages owed.
Jaret, Peter. “Avoiding Pharmacy Errors.” HealthDay. HealthDay, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <http://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/drug-center-16/misc-drugs-news-218/avoiding-pharmacy-errors-646512.html>
“Medication Safety Basics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Aug. 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/medicationsafety/basics.html>
“Protect Your Career and Your Financial Future.” Healthcare Providers Service Organization. Affinity Insurance Services, 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <http://www.hpso.com/profession/pharmacist.jsp>