It is not only doctors that have strict obligations to their patients. Pharmacists must also take certain steps when dispensing medication to keep patients safe. These include assessing the patient’s health history before dispensing certain medications, considering whether the patient has a drug therapy problem, and providing the patient with the information needed to use the medication and minimize the risks associated with side effects.

This article looks at some of the obligations that apply to pharmacists, as well as what you can do if you have been injured due to the failure of a pharmacist to comply with their obligations.

Errors include dispensing the wrong medication and providing insufficient information

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians dispense prescription medication. Unfortunately, errors relating to the dispensation of medication do occur, occasionally with catastrophic or fatal consequences. 

Dispensing a patient with the wrong medication has the potential to cause harm. But other types of errors, including a failure to give correct or sufficient information, can be equally devastating. For example, suppose a side effect of a particular medication is drowsiness and the pharmacist does not disclose this to the patient. In that case, an injury could occur, for example, if the patient falls asleep while driving a motor vehicle.

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are subject to strict standards to safeguard patients

The Alberta College of Pharmacy (ACP) has prepared standards with which pharmacists must comply when dispensing or selling certain medications. These are described as the minimum acceptable standards of practice and provide an idea of the types of things that pharmacists need to do in order to keep patients safe.

Below we look at a few of the key standards.

Pharmacists need to consider appropriate information for each patient

When a pharmacist dispenses a Schedule 1 drug or sells a Schedule 2 drug, they need to consider appropriate information in order to assess the patient and their health history. A Schedule 1 drug requires a prescription to be sold, whereas a Schedule 2 drug is only available from the pharmacist, without a prescription and not from the self-selection part of the pharmacy.

Obtaining information on the patient’s condition, symptoms, treatment history, and other relevant factors (such as pregnancy status and other medications being used) enables the pharmacist to ensure that the medication is appropriate for the patient. The standards permit this assessment to be delayed in certain circumstances, for example, where it will not negatively impact the patient. 

Pharmacists must determine whether the patient has a drug therapy problem

When dispensing a Schedule 1 drug or selling a Schedule 2 drug, the pharmacist needs to consider whether the patient has, or is likely to have, a drug therapy problem, as well as determine an appropriate response, which may include refusing to dispense the drug.

“Drug therapy problem” is defined expansively to include a range of situations where the patient is taking too much or little of a drug, such as where the patient:

  • needs a drug and isn’t receiving it or is taking the wrong product;
  • is experiencing an adverse reaction or an interaction with something else, such as another drug; or
  • taking a drug for substance abuse purposes.

Pharmacist needs to determine that the prescription is appropriate and filled correctly

The pharmacist needs to determine that the prescription is appropriate. The pharmacist or pharmacy technician needs to check that the prescription is current, authentic and complete. They also need to ensure that the drug dispensed accords with the prescription and is packaged and labelled properly.

Pharmacist needs to provide sufficient information, including on the use and side effects of the drug

In certain circumstances, including when a Schedule 1 or 2 drug is provided to a patient for the first time, the pharmacist needs to discuss certain matters with the patient to ensure they get the product’s intended benefit and understand any risks.

The pharmacist needs to provide information including on the procedures for use and storage of the drug, common or important side effects and recommendations to minimize them, signs of therapeutic response or adverse reaction, cautions about things that may impede the effectiveness of the drug or pose a risk in conjunction with the drug, and when the patient should seek further care.

Bringing a medical malpractice claim after a prescription or medication error

If you have been injured after taking medication and the dispensing pharmacist has not complied with their obligations, it may be possible to bring a medical malpractice claim. Injuries can arise in a number of different ways following a prescription error, including directly as a result of taking the wrong medication or incorrect dose or following an accident arising from the use of a drug.

In order to succeed in a negligence claim, the plaintiff needs to prove that the pharmacist fell below the standard of care and that this breach of the standard caused the resulting injury. Failure to comply with the standards set by the ACP may support a claim that the pharmacist has been negligent. 

Having handled medical malpractice cases involving medication or prescription errors, we have the experience to advise you on your prospects of success and develop the best possible case by diligently working with medical experts.

Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP for Advice on Medication and Prescription Errors 

Unfortunately, errors do sometimes occur when medication is dispensed. Suppose you have suffered an illness or injury after being prescribed medication or purchasing drugs from a pharmacist. In that case, you need a medical malpractice lawyer to help you with your claim. Cuming & Gillespie LLP has a reputation for excellence in medical malpractice, having been recognized by Lexpert. Call us today at 403-571-0555 or contact us online to book an appointment for a free consultation.