The term “medical malpractice” is typically associated with doctors and hospitals.
But it goes deeper than that. Healthcare is a $3.5 trillion industry, encompassing everything from medical device manufacturers to rural clinics. As a medical malpractice law firm located in Belleville, IL, we know the importance of examining all the component pieces of the medical system.
Therefore, we cannot forget, pharmacies. This is a big one, because there is a lot of room for egregious and high-impact error in this profit-driven industry, as the New York Times pointed out in this bombshell investigation that published last year, just before the pandemic.
Titled “How Chaos At Chain Pharmacies Is Putting Patients At Risk”, the article details the increasing number of folks harmed by prescription mistakes. Then it digs into why these errors are so common. The answer is chilling.
UNREASONABLE AND UNSAFE
In letters to state regulatory boards and in interviews with The New York Times, many pharmacists at companies like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens described understaffed and chaotic workplaces where they said it had become difficult to perform their jobs safely, putting the public at risk of medication errors.
They struggle to fill prescriptions, give flu shots, tend the drive-through, answer phones, work the register, counsel patients and call doctors and insurance companies, they said. This, all while racing to meet corporate performance metrics that they characterized as unreasonable and unsafe in an industry squeezed to do more with less.
“The amount of busywork we must do while verifying prescriptions is absolutely dangerous,” another wrote to the Pennsylvania board in February.“Mistakes are going to be made and the patients are going to be the ones suffering.”
CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid want to be perceived as your friendly local drug store. But they are corporations. And corporations exist to make money. Even, the story makes clear, if it means endangering customers.
These pharmacies take a two-fold approach. First, they need to generate as many prescriptions as possible, because pills equal dollars. To accomplish this, they have devised performance metrics. For example, pharmacists are expected to cold call doctors to preemptively request refills. If too many doctors say no, the pharmacist’s rating plummets.
Pharmacists are also pressured to push more pills onto patients by leaning on them to sign up for automatic refills, and by increasing the amount of medication given between refills. CVS, in particular, attempts to dispense every prescription in 90-day quantities, even if the prescriber only wants a 30-day supply.
This is dangerous. Psychiatrists often limit medication to guard against attempted suicide by overdose. CVS routinely ignores these limitations. When one Rhode Island doctor called them on it, CVS lied and said the patients insisted on a 90-day supply. The doctor then collected affidavits from his patients, proving the falsehood.
Caught, the company settled.
Prong two is to slash costs. Under the old approach, technicians would run the administrative side of things. That freed up the pharmacist to fully focus on making sure that the medication dispensed was exactly correct. This maximized safety.
But many of those administrative technicians have now been fired. Consequently, pharmacists are forced to answer the phone, call doctors, call patients, complete paperwork, work the register, give shots, and handle the drive-through, all while managing a shoe-string support staff.
PROFITS OVER PEOPLE
When you hear lawyers warn about profits over people, this is exactly what we mean.
Pharmacists are so overworked they don’t have time to use the bathroom, much less double-check the accuracy of their prescriptions. That is terrifying.
The result is a lot more mistakes.
“I had two misfills in three years with the previous staffing and now I make 10-12 per year (that are caught),” one pharmacist noted.
Some of these errors can have grave consequences.
In one instance, a baby was prescribed reflux medication, but got a steroid instead. Her motor function was significantly impaired — perhaps permanently.
In another, a man spent two weeks putting wrongly-dispensed ear drops into his eyes and nearly went blind.
The system is screwed up, laden with dangerous incentives. And regulators can only do so much.
That’s where we come in. If you believe you may have been harmed by a pharmacy, contact us via the contact form on this page or call us today at: (618) 236-2221.
Often, the problem runs deeper than getting the wrong medication, or the wrong amount. We thoroughly investigate every case to identify the root cause. When corporations emphasize money over your safety, we hold them accountable.