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Pharmacists Make Mistakes. You Can Protect Yourself.

Source: New York Times

Pharmacy errors come in various forms, and many pharmacists at retail chains across the country are increasingly worried about making mistakes, an investigation by The New York Times found.

In letters to state regulatory boards and in interviews with The New York Times, many pharmacists at companies like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens described understaffed and chaotic workplaces where they said it had become difficult to perform their jobs safely, putting the public at risk of medication errors.

Pharmacists struggle to fill prescriptions, give flu shots, tend the drive-through, answer phones, work the register, counsel patients and call doctors and insurance companies — all the while racing to meet corporate performance metrics that they characterized as unreasonable and unsafe in an industry squeezed to do more with less. State boards and associations in at least two dozen states have heard from distraught pharmacists, interviews and records show, while some doctors complain that pharmacies bombard them with requests for refills that patients have not asked for and should not receive.

[Read The Times’s investigation.]

While patients cannot control what happens behind the pharmacy counter, they can be on the lookout for errors. These simple steps can help.

1. Talk to the Pharmacist

Ask to speak with a pharmacist, especially when the prescription involves a medication that is new to you. Inquire about side effects and whether the new drug is safe in combination with any others you are already taking.

Pharmacists are supposed to check for drug interactions when dispensing prescriptions, and have computerized alerts to help, but they can get distracted.

2. Open the Bag

One of the most common mistakes made in pharmacies is dispensing a prescription to the wrong patient. The correct name of the patient should be on the bag (usually on a printout stapled to the outside) as well as on the box or bottle inside it that contains the medication. It is important to check both; sometimes the bag is right, but the medication is not.

Also check the address and birth date, in case someone with a similar name had a prescription waiting as well.

3. Look at the Pills

Patients who get refills of the same medications month after month are more likely to recognize a pill that looks different, yet they might assume that the pharmacy has switched to a different generic or a new supplier. Make no such assumption.

Start by reading the bottle. Many include a description of the pills. the internet is filled with websites that can help. WebMD has a search engine to help identify pills, as do AARP, Medscape, and the National Library of Medicine.

4. Read the Instructions

Most drugs come with an informational leaflet. Take a look to make sure the medication matches the ailment being treated.

5. Report Errors

Alert the pharmacy as soon as possible when there is a mistake. Not only should the wrong medication be exchanged for the correct one, but another patient might be at risk if prescriptions were accidentally mixed up. The prescribing doctor should also be alerted.

Informing pharmacies about errors can help them prevent others in the future. Errors can also be reported to state pharmacy boards. In addition, the safe medication group collects reports of medication errors and analyzes them for trends. It shares the information with the Food and Drug Administration, which can investigate further or pursue regulatory action.

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