Poor handwriting can be deadly. One letter can make the difference between someone getting better or getting tragically worse. But every year, for these and other reasons, medication dispensing errors adversely affect the health of millions of Americans, with thousands dying because of pharmacists’ mistakes.


Medication Dispensing Errors Are Preventable

Medication errors are among the most frequent medical mistakes, harming about 1.5 million people every year. When patients who don’t experience adverse health effects are included, recent studies estimate that more than 2.3 million prescription medication dispensing errors are made every year in pharmacies across the country.

Almost all of these medication mistakes are preventable and the result of human error. Pharmacists are highly trained and knowledgeable professionals. They handle and dispense powerful medications to vulnerable patients who rely on them to use great care in filling and dispensing prescriptions.

But pharmacists are also human, and their jobs can come with business pressures, policies, and priorities that may impede their abilities to fulfill their duties as they should. A pharmacist can make a number of critical errors between the time a prescription is received from a patient or physician and the time the prescribed medication is dispensed.

Look-Alike, Sound-Alike Drug Errors and Other Risks

One of the most significant risks comes from names for different medications that are confusingly similar. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices has assembled a lengthy list of these “Look-Alike, Sound-Alike (“LASA”) drugs. One study suggests that LASA errors occur at a rate of at least one per 1000 prescriptions filled in hospital settings.

The risk factors for mistakes caused by LASA issues include:

  • Handwritten prescriptions;
  • LASA drugs appearing in close proximity on computer ordering screens;
  • Inadvertent and incorrect selection from a computer drop-down menu;
  • Confusion during the medication reconciliation process;
  • Misheard oral orders; and
  • Incorrect product selection from a shelf or cabinet.

Other medication dispensing errors include:

  • Dispensing incorrect medications based on illegible prescriptions.
  • Dispensing medication in the wrong dosage.
  • Failing to provide instructions or providing incorrect instructions.
  • Dispensing another patient’s medicine, often because of confusingly similar patient names.

A comprehensive survey by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy looked at the many reasons for prescription errors cited by pharmacists themselves. The most frequent factors mentioned are:

  • Too many phone calls
  • Insufficient time to counsel patients
  • Overloaded and busy days
  • Too many customers
  • Lack of concentration
  • No one available for quality assurance
  • Staff shortages
  • LASA issues
  • Illegible prescriptions
  • Misinterpreted prescriptions

The increased use of electronic prescriptions and barcode technology should address many of these risk factors, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has established a commission to address LASA problems and modify the names of similar sounding medications. But all patients need to remain vigilant to ensure that the medicine they take home from the pharmacy is the same as the one their doctor prescribed. 

Speak with a Michigan Medical Malpractice Lawyer Today About Your Prescription Error Concerns

We work closely with patients and their families to obtain compensation for injuries and losses caused by all forms of medical negligence, including prescription errors. Our seasoned team of attorneys, nurses, and experts will investigate your claim and determine the course of action to obtain the best possible outcome.

Please contact the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Medical Malpractice Litigation Group for a free consultation to review your case.

Richard D. Fox

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Richard D. Fox

Richard Fox handles personal injury cases, including birth trauma, medical malpractice, and motor vehicle negligence. Throughout his career, which has spanned over 45 years, Rick has successfully represented clients in medical negligence and other personal injury claims.