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What is a Pharmacy Error?

A pharmacy error occurs when a mistake is made in prescribing, dispensing, or administering medication, potentially leading to harmful consequences for the patient. These errors can range from incorrect dosages to providing the wrong drug altogether. Understanding the causes and prevention of such errors is crucial for patient safety. How can we better safeguard against these mistakes? Continue reading to learn more.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Pharmacy error is usually the unintentional mistake in the filling of a drug prescription that is made by the pharmacist or other pharmacy employees. Such errors can occur for numerous reasons. Under most circumstances, pharmacy error is not intentional, and could result from poor attention to detail, misreading the details of a prescription, and receiving a prescription that includes an error on the part of the doctor/nurse practitioner, which is then filled. Since these errors can occasionally be of significant harm or even deadly, people should know there are ways to check prescriptions for mistakes.

It is very rare that pharmacy error originates intentionally. The two factors that seem most likely to cause it are drug addiction or money worries/greed. Pharmacists have stolen prescriptions or diluted the strength of drugs. These are more than errors; they are crimes against customers. Pharmacists perpetuating these crimes are often jailed, lose their licenses, and are subject to civil lawsuits.

Mixing prescriptions is a form of pharmacy error.
Mixing prescriptions is a form of pharmacy error.

A pharmacy error is usually not intended. One type is receiving the wrong drug, especially one that looks quite similar to the regular medication prescribed. It may be the same color and dimension, but might have different serial numbers. Serial numbers are usually printed right on prescriptions, and appearance of a drug is normally described in some detail. If a pharmacist goes by description alone and doesn’t check the serial number, the wrong medicine could make it into the bottle.

Filling an inaccurate prescription is a type of pharmacy error.
Filling an inaccurate prescription is a type of pharmacy error.

Another type of pharmacy error is filling an inaccurate prescription, where the error is really the doctor’s. The drug could be wrong or directions on how to take it, or length of time to take it could be wrong. Since many prescriptions are now sent to pharmacies by email, it’s not hard to see how a mistake of this type originates. A simple typo may cause problems with directions, though most pharmacists double-check doctor prescriptions or know exactly how much should be prescribed.

Mixing pharmacy errors might occur too, particularly with liquid medications. These are hardest to catch because they can’t be instantly analyzed like pills. Fortunately, many people can order their prescription in pill form for greater verification.

Many people catch pharmacy errors by inspecting their prescriptions. There are a number of places online to get specific descriptions of most generic medications. Most pills do have identifying information that can be checked against handy drug ID checkers online.

Some people don’t initially think they’ll be victim of pharmacy error, but note that several days of taking a medication is not having its intended effect. Jumping to the conclusion that the drug is just not working isn’t always smart. Instead, checking drug ID at this juncture could be important, or patients could talk to their doctors or pharmacists about the medicine. If sudden illness occurs as a result of taking a drug, particularly one that is not new, patients should definitely get in touch with their doctor.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

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    • Mixing prescriptions is a form of pharmacy error.
      By: mangostock
      Mixing prescriptions is a form of pharmacy error.
    • Filling an inaccurate prescription is a type of pharmacy error.
      By: Rob Byron
      Filling an inaccurate prescription is a type of pharmacy error.