Bioethics Blogs

Mandatory Reporting of Pharmacy Prescription Errors?

Following the widely-reported 2014 case of a Cincinnati pharmacist incorrectly filling a prescription which led to a serious patient injury, the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy is now poised to promulgate a new regulation requiring pharmacists to report errors and to the board. This may be the first attempt by a US state board of pharmacy to require dispensing error reporting. (However, about six years ago, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia instituted a required reporting system that has resulted in over 20,000 reports of errors and “near-misses” each year.)

The facts of the 2014 case are direct: A pharmacist was responsible for mistakenly filling a prescription written to supply labetalol but instead dispensed lamotrigine. As a result, the patient suffered permanent kidney damage requiring long-term dialysis. However, because of more in-depth news reporting, an investigator for a local television station made the claim that pharmacists deal with mistakes in “secrecy” and recommended that prescription errors reporting be mandated.

Regrettably, dispensing errors are an unfortunately fact of a pharmacist’s life. In a 2003 observational study attempting to assess prescription dispensing accuracy in 50 pharmacies in six US cities, pharmacy researchers Elizabeth Flynn, Kenneth Barker, and Brian Carnahan showed that the error rate was 1.7% for the 4481 prescriptions reviewed. Of the 77 identified mistakes, the team considered five to “clinically important.” (J Am Pharm Assoc. 2003;43:191-200). Interestingly, the accuracy rate did not vary significantly by pharmacy type or city.

In a 1998 report, a national pharmacist liability carrier provided information to authors Walter Fitzgerald and Dennis Wilson that 85% of its claims resulted from “mechanical errors,” including dispensing the wrong drug or dose, or labeling the prescription incorrectly.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.