As a patient, you place a great deal of trust in your pharmacist, but pharmacists can make mistakes when filling prescriptions. Pharmacy errors account for 21 percent of all medication errors, and although only about two-thirds of these errors actually reach the patient, they can cause you or your family members serious physical harm. Sometimes they can even be fatal.
Types of Pharmacy Error
A pharmacy error results in a discrepancy between the instructions written on your prescription and the medicine that is given to you by the pharmacist. There are several different types of dispensing errors:
- The medication is given to the wrong person. This happens when the pharmacist fills a prescription for another person with the same name.
- The wrong medication is dispensed. In this case, the pharmacist dispenses a drug that looks the same or sounds the same as the prescribed drug but is completely different.
- The right medication is given, but at the wrong strength. The pharmacist may misread the prescribed dosage on the prescription.
- The wrong amount of medication is dispensed. The pharmacist provides the wrong number of pills or the wrong amount of liquid medication.
- The wrong administration instructions on the label. For example, the label may instruct the patient to take the medication three times a day instead of twice a day.
- The pharmacist fails to catch drug contraindications. Some medications taken together can cause harm.
While it is the responsibility of the pharmacy staff to ensure that you get the exact medication that your doctor prescribed, mistakes can happen. These may often be a result of a problem with the prescription itself: illegible handwriting, confusion between similar-sounding drug names, misuse of zeroes or decimal points, or incorrect abbreviations.
How to Avoid Pharmacy Errors
There are steps that you can take to prevent these problems from happening to you. Each time you visit your doctor, you should bring a list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you are currently taking. Always ask your doctor to explain your prescription. You should know the name of the medication, what it is for, how and when you should take it, the possible side effects, and when you should call the doctor. Taking time to understand the details of the prescription can help you ensure that you get the right medication and avoid dispensing errors.
Understanding your Prescription
Every prescription has to contain some very specific information. Understanding this can help you avoid pharmacy errors. Your prescription should include the following information:
- Your doctor’s information. This should include your doctor’s name, the address of his practice, the telephone number, and the doctor’s medical license number.
- Your information or your child’s information. This should include the appropriate name and address.
- The date. This is the date on which the prescription was signed.
- The Rx. This is the symbol for prescription.
- The medicine name and strength. This part of the prescription should include the name of the medication and the prescribed strength. Often, your doctor will include both the brand and generic names of the drug to help prevent confusion for the pharmacist. If the dosage is very small, it is helpful if the doctor includes a zero before the decimal point, so that the pharmacist can clearly read the prescribed dosage (for example, 0.25 instead of .25).
- The Disp. This will show the exact amount of tablets or liquid your doctor has prescribed.
- The Sig. Here, the doctor gives instructions on how to take or use the medication. These are the directions that the pharmacist will put on the label.
- The Indication. Here, the doctor lists the reasons you are taking this particular medication.
- The number of refills. In this section, your doctor lets the pharmacist know how many times you can refill the prescription before you need a new one.
- The permissible substitution. The doctor must note here if he wants to give you a specific brand of medication, or the prescription can be filled with a generic medicine (one that is equivalent to the brand prescribed) if available.
Understanding your prescription can help you be a prepared patient and allow you to take an active role in your health care. When you take your prescription to the pharmacist, always talk to him to ensure you have the right prescription, the right amount of medication, the correct dose, and the right instructions.
If you have been the victim of a pharmacy error, Kennedy Hodges may be able to help. Call 888.526.7616 today to discuss your case. You can also find out more about your prescription error case by ordering a free copy of our book.