prescription pills spilling out of bottle

Be Sure You Are Getting the Right Medicine

Identifying & Preventing Prescription Errors

senior pharmacist instructing junior pharmacist on filling prescriptionsYou go to your doctor, you are prescribed a medication, and you have the script filled at the pharmacy. You’re on your way to feeling better, right? Not necessarily.

“While estimates vary, it’s believed that 1 percent to 5 percent of prescriptions filled in U.S. pharmacies involve some kind of error,” says Gerald Gianutsos, an associate professor of pharmacology at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, according to an article in U.S. News & World Report.

What Are the Most Common Types of Medication Errors?

Incorrect Prescription Labels

“A prescription label with incorrect directions is probably the most frequent type of error,” Gianutsos continues. “It’s less common, but more dangerous, when a patient gets the wrong dose or wrong medicine.” 

Mixing Up Patients

Similarly, one of the top pharmacy mistakes is medication going to the wrong customers, says Michael Cohen, President of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.

Failure to Warn of Drug Interactions

Another type of pharmacy error is missing a drug interaction that could result from a new prescription. For instance, taking an antihistamine for allergy symptoms while you’re also taking sedatives, tranquilizers or a prescription drug for high blood pressure or depression could strongly affect your concentration and make it dangerous to drive, according to the FDA.

What Causes Prescription Errors?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the top causes of medication errors include:

  • Poor communication - Whether between you and your doctor or between your doctor and the pharmacist
  • Similar sounding drug names - This can be more likely to happen with prescriptions that are phoned in, rather than sent in electronically in writing
  • Medications that look alike - If a pharmacist is in a rush or isn't properly trained, they may be more likely to mix up two medications that look similar
  • Medical abbreviations - Another common cause of error is failure to properly read or understand medical abbreviations; this can be avoided if the pharmacist checks in with the doctor on any confusing medical notes

How Do You Identify Prescription Errors?

There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of becoming the victim of prescription errors:

  • To reduce the potential for errors, you should open your pharmacy bag and verify that you’ve received the correct prescription before heading home. Even though your name may appear on the outside of the bag, somebody else’s name could show up on the containers within.
  • Always make the pharmacist aware of other medicines you are taking, including over the counter products.
  • Say yes to counseling. Besides giving you critical information about your medications, pharmacist-patient counseling sessions can sometimes uncover prescription errors. But customers may not realize they have a right to receive counseling before signing the form that says they received their meds at the cashier. Don’t hesitate to pause the checkout process and say, “Wait a minute, I want to talk to the pharmacist first.”

Noted in an article last year in U.S. News and World Report, “Cohen’s group, the ISMP, analyzes and follows up on voluntary reports from health care professionals through its National Medication Errors Reporting Program. Another portal on the site lets patients report errors directly. You can also report serious errors to your state’s medical board.”

Meanwhile, the FDA is working on some remedies. Gone, in many cases, is the doctor’s “illegible scrawl” — a notorious source of drug errors. Electronic prescriptions are more the norm. The FDA is also working to reduce errors from sound-alike or look-alike drugs, analyzing new drug names and medication packaging submitted by manufacturers – and rejecting them if there’s a potential for confusion with existing drugs. Barcode technology used by pharmacies helps cut down on dispensing errors, like giving the wrong medicine, and pharmacy software also helps flag potential drug interactions and allergy issues.

Still, it is critical you continue to be careful. Examine your prescriptions carefully. Ask your pharmacist to assure you that everything is correct. Remember, counseling with your pharmacist is free and there is a requirement that you get the opportunity to speak to one before you go home. Take advantage of it.

How To Handle Prescription Errors

If you discover an error, even if there is no harm done, let the pharmacist know immediately. They have a duty to document the error to prevent the same mistake from happening again. If you are not so lucky and you became seriously ill, keep the prescription and the medicine so you have the evidence in case future litigation becomes necessary.

Then, call Theodoros & Rooth to discuss your potential case with an attorney. The initial consultation is always free. The attorneys at our firm have over 110 years collective experience dealing with all phases of personal injury – including cases of pharmaceutical errors, dangerous products, and negligence among doctors, hospitals and other medical providers.

If we think you have a case, we will fight for your rights and get you the compensation you deserve. Call (219) 212-2462 today for help.

*Sources include: US News and World Report, July 2014; Food & Drug Administration