New drugs are rapidly being developed and marketed, and more prescriptions are being written than ever before. The population as a whole is aging, and elderly patients account for about one-third of all drugs consumed. The practice of pharmacy itself has radically changed over the last decade. Whereas most pharmacies used to be part of family-owed drug stores, they are now frequently owned and operated by national corporations and supermarket chains to allow the consumer to pick up his or her medicine at the same time as groceries and other supplies. The convenience of these superstores can be overshadowed by reckless mistakes made when pharmacists are required to fill a high number of prescriptions. Pharmacy experts conclude that a large part of the problem is a shortage of pharmacists.
Several factors account for the errors made in filling prescriptions, including the following:
- Existence of prescription medications with nearly identical names and/or packaging.
- Increase in the number of medications being prescribed.
- Overworked pharmacists.
- Increased number of drugs used to treat a single disease or condition.
- Distractions from ringing telephones and customers.
- Poor penmanship by physicians.
- Inadequate technician assistance.
A misfilled prescription can result in severe injury or death to a consumer who relied on the pharmacy to ensure that the medication they received was the same as the medication prescribed by their physician. Death or injury can result from adverse reactions, improper combinations of drugs, and the deprivation of medications essential to patients’ well-being.
A pharmacist may be responsible if he or she incorrectly filled a prescription due to a breach of the standard of care and the error caused injury or death to a customer. In addition, any technical or clerical co-workers of the pharmacist who failed to act in accordance with proper procedures can be potentially liable, and the employing pharmacy may be financially responsible for harm caused by an employee acting in the course and scope of his employment. Some states require a pharmacist to talk to the customers about their prescriptions and their side effects, and a failure to properly counsel could result in a claim of negligence.
In some states, a pharmacist may have an obligation to detect a potentially harmful combination of drugs. He or she may also be required to recognize when a physician has written a prescription that is, on its face, outside the normal dosages recommended by the manufacturer.