How to Prevent a Medication Mistake February 24, 2009.

Pharmaceutical error is not something that many people stop to think about. They drive to the drug store, pick up their prescription, and go home to take their pill. But what if the pharmacist doled out the wrong drug? What if he or she gave you the wrong dose? What if that knowledgeable-looking person in the white coat misread the doctor’s order?

"Unfortunately, the public has ample reason for concern," said website U.S. Pharmacist. "One study reported that U.S. fatalities from acknowledged prescription errors increased by 243 percent between 1983 and 1998 to almost 10,000. This percentage increase was greater than for almost any other cause of death and far outpaced the increase in the number of prescriptions."

According to the study, doctors prescribed the wrong dose or medication, or they neglected to monitor side effects.

"An analysis of malpractice claims against pharmacists found that mechanical errors accounted for 86 percent of liability claims," the site stated. "By far the most common type of error in malpractice litigation is the allegation that the wrong drug was dispensed (52 percent). These claims are responsible for the most serious patient injury and, when proven, result in the largest damage awards. Other significant mechanical error claims in malpractice litigation are dispensing the wrong dose of the correct drug and providing incorrect directions on the label."

The ultimate responsibility of a pharmacist is to ensure that prescriptions are accurately filled. This means he or she gives the patient the right drug, the correct dose, and the proper instructions (i.e., take the drug on an empty stomach, etc.). He or she should always double check a prescription if the doctor’s handwriting is illegible. Guessing at what a doctor meant is too big a gamble.

Take, for instance, a story published February 18, 2013, in which a multiple sclerosis patient reportedly took a double dose of medicine for two days before realizing her pill was a 500 mg capsule rather than the 250 mg capsule her doctor had prescribed.

"The label on her prescription was correct, but a Rite Aid pharmacist gave her the wrong dosage," the news station stated.

Concerned that the overdose may have damaged her liver, the patient questioned whether Rite-Aid has protocols in place to prevent such errors. A company spokesman replied that Rite-Aid pharmacists are supposed to perform a seven-point check before a drug leaves the store.

To prevent a similar situation from happening to you, AARP magazine suggests the following tips:

When going to the doctor’s office:

  • Take an accurate list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements you take.
  • If your doctor writes a new prescription, double check the drug’s name and what dosage you should take. Make sure you understand how (with milk? on an empty stomach?), when (morning? before bed?), and for how long (until you run out of pills? until you run out of refills?) you should take it.
  • Ask your physician to explain how the drug works, whether you will need any follow-up tests, and if you should expect any adverse side effects. If it’s an expensive drug, ask if you can take a generic instead.
  • Write down everything the doctor says, so there is no confusion later.

When going to the pharmacy:

  • Take your list of medications, vitamins, and supplements to the store when you get your prescription filled. Ask about any potential interactions.
  • Signing that clipboard or electric log means you understand your "HIPAA" (federal privacy law) rights and, oftentimes, that your pharmacist offered to talk to you about your prescription. Your signature acknowledges that you waived that right counseling.
  • Before leaving the store, ensure that everything on the drug label matches what your doctor said.

If you or someone you love suffered catastrophic or fatal injuries as a result of a medication mistake, contact a medical malpractice attorney in our Cleveland office today for a free consultation. Or request our free, easy-to-read guide to filing a claim in Ohio.