Being prescription-smart

How to avoid costly mistakes by the pharmaceutical industry

By Leah Ching

The Argus

Source : Flickr

Most people trust pharmacists to deliver the right product in the right dose and give information about any potential side effects and drug interactions. But, during a joint investigation, CBC and Marketplace (a news program dedicated to uncovering marketplace wrongdoings) revealed just how often Canadians are involved in prescription faux pas due to pharmacist error. Stories poured in about wrong drug being dispensed, wrong doses being given, and the failure to disclose possible drug interactions. These kinds of mistakes are dangerous and possibly deadly.

How often does this occur in Canada? No one really knows. With CBC reporting almost 38,000 pharmacists dispensing more than half a billion prescriptions in Canada every year, there is no national tracking system, no statistics, and no mandatory reporting for pharmacist mistakes. One Canadian reports to CBC that due to a wrong drug being ingested, they lost their career of thirty years, were placed on disability pension, and are left not knowing if they will ever regain use of their right leg. Another lady comments that she was prescribed antibiotics without the pharmacist notifying her that her oral contraceptives could be made less effective by the new medicine.

So why does this happen? The underlying cause for many pharmacists is increasing corporate pressure to meet business quotas and productivity targets. They are also encouraged to push flu shots and medical checks to increase revenue.

With corporate pressure for productivity rising, pharmacists may be inadvertently sacrificing quality patient care for quantity of prescriptions filled. Some pharmacists are saying that this creates an “assembly line mentality” focused on speed which can make more room for mistakes.  Pharmacist targets include corporate quotas for prescriptions per day along with productivity per hour. It comes down to how many prescriptions a pharmacist can fill and how fast.

An anonymous pharmacist expressed disdain for increased corporate pressure, creating harsh working conditions for pharmacists with long hours standing, pressure to work quickly, and little or no breaks.

“We are supposed to be health care providers, but are expected in many workplaces to put our own health and well-being to one side in order to make more money for our employers.”

With many people putting their trust in the medical system and never questioning the drugs they receive, here are some tips to avoid pharmacy errors and keep health in check:

–         Keep a copy of the prescription to check the drug dose received against the original to see if they match up.

–         When renewing prescriptions, keep old bottles, compare labels and check the refill to see if it looks different. If it does, ask why.

–         Most importantly, patients should make a habit of consulting their pharmacist. Taking the time to inquire about a new prescription gives the pharmacist a second chance to notice any errors they’ve made as well as offer helpful information that may have gone unknown.

–         Ask what the active drugs are in your prescription, what they are commonly used for, what the side effects are, and if it interacts with any other medicines already prescribed.


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