Tips On Avoiding Fatal Pharmacy Errors

“There’s been a tremendous increase in fatal pharmacy errors over the past 20 years,” said David Phillips, a sociology professor at the University of California-San Diego who has studied this issue. “And the increase is much bigger for outpatient pharmacies than for inpatient pharmacies.”

Why the increase? Phillips said more health care is happening outside hospitals, putting more of a burden on outpatient pharmacists. Here, from Phillips and other experts, are ways to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Don’t get a prescription filled at the beginning of the month.Phillips’ research shows that in the first few days of each month fatalities due to medication errors rise by as much as 25 percent above normal. The reason: Social Security checks come at the beginning of the month.”Quite a number of people can’t afford to get their medicines until the Social Security check comes in, so at the beginning of the month they turn up in abnormally large numbers and swamp the pharmacists,” Phillips said. “When pharmacists are busy, they make more mistakes.”

    Of course, it’s not always possible to wait a week or two to get a prescription, but Phillips advises to do so if you can.

  • Open the bottle at the pharmacy.Mitch Rothholz, a spokesman for the American Pharmacists Association, said pharmacy errors aren’t common, but that there are things patients can do to make sure the medicine inside a bottle is the right drug.He said opening the bottle right at the pharmacy and showing the pills to the pharmacist is one safeguard. Another: If it looks different than the medicine you’ve taken before, or you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask the pharmacist.
  • Don’t be in a rush.”When picking up drugs, patients want to get in and out quickly,” said Hedy Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. “We care if our food has butter or margarine on it. We really should be much more careful about the medications we put in our mouths.”Cohen said patients should take the time to get detailed instructions about how to take a drug. Errors happen not just when the wrong medicine is dispensed, but when the right medicine is taken at the wrong dosage. To read about more on how to avoid pharmacy errors, click here.