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Protect Yourself from Pharmacy Errors

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Protect Yourself from Pharmacy Errors


Errors involving medication can occur in many ways, but there are steps a patient can take to can protect herself from pharmacy errors.

One example of a medicine error would be duplicating ingredients, such as taking an over the counter pain reliever that contains acetaminophen when you are also taking a prescription medication that contains the same ingredient.  Too much acetaminophen can be harmful to the liver.

There are many other types of errors, such as taking the wrong medication altogether.  Some of the ways in which the mistakes can occur include:

  • Miscommunication between the doctor and the pharmacist
  • Poor communication between the patient and the physician
  • Very similar drug names
  • Medication that looks like another
  • Unclear handwriting or abbreviations used by the physician or pharmacist

Pharmacists are often handling too many duties without sufficient help.  Being overworked is a common reason given for pharmacy mistakes.  Patients do not have any control over what happens behind the pharmacy counter, but they can take some simple steps to double-check for errors.

Talk with the Pharmacist

Yes, most of the time, they are very busy, but they will always take the time to go over your medications with you.  Usually, there is an option when upon check out to have a consultation with the pharmacist – don’t skip this step!  Pharmacists are the top source of information about the drugs that are prescribed.  Ask them to explain potential side effects and any possible negative interactions with other medications.  Every prescription should be checked for interactions by the pharmacist and a computer system at the time they are dispensed, but it never hurts to ensure you are informed at the time the medication is picked up.

Simply by taking the time to talk with the pharmacist, it increases the chances that he or she will take a second look at your current medications and the new subscription to catch any mistakes.

Check the Labels

A common mistake is dispensing medication to the wrong patient.  Make sure the label on the outside of the bag, as well as the label on the bottle, have the correct patient name.  Also, check that the patient’s address and date of birth are correct.

Check the Actual Pills

If you get the same medications refilled every month, you will likely notice if they look different.  While it is entirely possible that the health plan may have switched to a generic version, do not assume that is the case.  If the pills look different, ask the pharmacist.

Many bottles include a description of the pills inside (e.g., small, yellow, coated).  Be sure the description matches the content.

Thankfully, now it is easy to perform an internet search of the identifying characteristics of the pills, which often include a number.  This is an added safeguard to confirm that the medication a patient was prescribed is the one that was dispensed.

Follow Instructions

Often we throw away the paperwork within our prescription bag.  Instead, take time to read it over, especially if the medication is new.

The following video from Consumer Reports explains why it’s important to check your medications before taking them.

Report Any Errors

If you do discover a mistake with your prescription, report it to the dispensing pharmacy immediately.  There is a possibility that another patient received your correct prescription, resulting in not one, but two mistakes.  Additionally, inform the prescribing physician of the error.  Informing the involved physicians and pharmacists of errors can reduce the potential for future mistakes.

Sacramento Drug Products Liability Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento drug products liability lawyer. If you or someone you love sustained an injury after experiencing a pharmacy error with your prescription drug, please reach out to me at (800) 404-5400 or (916) 921-6400 so that I can provide free, friendly advice.

We are members of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

See our client reviews on GoogleYelp, and AVVO and our past verdicts and settlements.

Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 12.31.20]

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DISCLAIMER: This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a Retainer/Services Agreement. No attorney-client relationship will exist between you and our firm unless and until we enter into a signed Retainer/Services Agreement. The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be medical or legal advice. Do not stop taking any medication without consulting your physician.