“Significant” Error Rate in Community Pharmacies

Medication Errors Often Occur at Pharmacies, Prompting Quality Improvement Measures

How often to medication errors occur in pharmacies versus in other settings? As a fact sheet from the Patient Safety Network explains, medication mistakes can occur at many different points in a patient’s care, including the following:

  • Prescribing-stage error in which a prescribing physician may be responsible;Male pharmacist working at his desk
  • Transcribing-stage error in which a computerized entry system produces error;
  • Dispensing error at the pharmacy; and
  • Administration error at the hospital or at a pharmacy, in which the wrong medication is given to a patient.

According to a recent article in the Modern Medicine Network, new research conducted by the Auburn University College of Pharmacy determined that there is a “significant error rate in community pharmacies” that is approximately one error for every 1,000 prescriptions that are filled. Pharmacies with a lower error rate still showed on average one prescription mistake for every 10,000 prescriptions filled.

In other words, pharmacy mistakes happen more often than you might think. In response to high rates of medication errors that occur at both the dispensing and administration stages (mentioned above), pharmacies and hospitals have implemented “some form of continuous quality improvement (CQI) program in their workflow,” according to the article. These programs provide pharmacists with tools for identifying risks of mechanical errors, as well as tools to reduce the likelihood of a prescription mistake actually reaching the patient. In other words, the CQI programs help catch a pharmacy error at two different points—in the filling of the prescription, and in the process of the filled prescription reaching the patient.

The article suggests that once pharmacies have fully implemented these tools, it is important to move onto education of all staff members at the pharmacy about safety protocols and steps that should be taken at every stage of filling a prescription.

Learning More About Medication Errors 

What should you know about medication mistakes? First, what is a medication error? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a medication error as “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer.” According to a fact sheet from the FDA, medication mistakes result in “at least one death every day and injure approximately 1.3 million people annually in the United States.” The FDA cites some of the stages for error mentioned above, as well as additional phases in the drug distribution system in which errors can take place:

  • Prescribing;
  • Repackaging;
  • Dispensing;
  • Administering; and
  • Monitoring.

What can consumers do to prevent medication errors? The FDA recommends the following:

  • Understand the types of medication errors that occur and be vigilant;
  • Always find out what type of drug you have been prescribed and what it is used to treat;
  • Learn how to take the drug you have been prescribed, and ensure that you understand the directions for its use;
  • Keep a list of all of your medications, including herbal supplements, with you when you visit the doctor so that you can avoid any harmful drug interactions; and
  • If you have any questions about your medication, you should always ask a healthcare professional.

In the event that you were injured because of a medication mistake, contact a medical malpractice lawyer to discuss your situation.

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