When a pharmacist fails to comply with standards of practice and medication errors occur, it puts the health and lives of patients at risk. Depending on the nature of the error, it may be possible to hold a pharmacist responsible for negligence with a professional malpractice claim.
A Pharmacist’s Duty of Care
Pharmacists are held to the duty of exercising a high standard of care and diligence to ensure medications are accurately filled, labeled, and distributed to patients. They are also responsible for warning patients about risks involved with their medications. Pharmacists often assume the risks for medication issues like prescription preparation mistakes, drug-to-drug interactions, allergic reactions, and incorrect dosing of medications.
A pharmacist’s duty of care encompasses:
- Properly filling the prescription with the drug and dosage as specified by the prescriber
- Labeling the prescription correctly
- Warning patients of any known dangers associated with the drug prescribed
- Counseling or offering to counsel patients about the medication
- Providing the patient with information about drug interactions, common severe side effects and adverse effects associated with prescribed medications
When a pharmacist has incorrectly filled a prescription, dispensed the wrong dosage, or provided incorrect directions, he has failed in his duty of care.
Increase in Rates of Preventable Medication-Related Errors
Medication errors have been identified as the most common error in health care by an Institute of Medicine (IOM) study. Several thousand deaths are caused by this error each year and could have been prevented. Another 1.5 million people a year experience harm from prescription errors. Almost 50 million errors occur in the filling of three billion prescriptions each year. This is an error rate of 1.7 percent.
Four Essential Elements to Prove Negligence
When a patient is injured because of a medication error, he and his malpractice practice attorney must prove that the pharmacist was negligent. There are four essential elements to prove that a negligent act has been committed. The pharmacist must have had a legal duty to protect the patient from injury; the pharmacist must have breached that duty; an injury must have occurred to the patient, and there must be a close causal relationship between the patient’s injury and the pharmacist’s breach of duty.
If the pharmacist is found liable for malpractice, the injured party may be awarded compensation for his or her injuries. In extreme cases where a pharmacist has shown a reckless disregard, punitive damages may also be awarded.