Dispensing Error Liability

dispensing errorsDispensing errors in pharmacy are a fact of life. Even with the very best policies and procedures in place, an educated and well trained pharmacy staff performing the necessary steps to ensure safe Rx dispensing, plus an experienced pharmacist performing and overseeing the actual prescription dispensing, the process involves human beings and they are not robots. The point is that humans make mistakes, and dispensing errors occur even when a pharmacy has the very best of systems and professionals in place.

New Dispensing Error Legislation Proposed In The UK

Interestingly enough there is currently new legislation being proposed in the United Kingdom in regards to dispensing errors made by pharmacists and the associated liability to the pharmacy. The problem that the proposed UK legal changes attempts to address is quite simple: Remove the fear of prosecution that pharmacists face when they discover that a dispensing error has been made. By removing the impediment that discourages pharmacists from reporting dispensing errors and mistakes that have been made, the result of increased error reporting can only result in learning from the errors and a vast improvement in patient and consumer safety.

It is important to note that the proposed legislation for exemption from legal liability applies only when an inadvertent medication dispensing error takes place or occurs. As long as the pharmacy had in place proper and up-to-date written Policies and Procedures, plus the pharmacist involved did not intentionally make an error or knowingly break a law, then the proposed legislation would prevent any liability as a result of being reported. In other words (keeping in mind that we here at HCC are not attorneys or lawyers), if the RPh acted in the expected and best standard practices of their profession when a dispensing error was made, the pharmacist would be exempt from both criminal and civil legal liability.

The Estimated Reduction Of Errors In The UK

The assessment that was performed in the United Kingdom to substantiate the legislative changes was based on several basic estimates. Determining whether the estimates are accurate or not is not the intent of this discussion. The reasoning that was used, however, does seem to be logically sound and leads to a dramatic result in the potential economic savings, and, perhaps more importantly, an increase in patient welfare and safety.

The Impact Assessment Estimates

The Impact Assessment conducted and released by the UK Department of Health and Social Care estimated the following:
1. In 2016 alone there were almost twenty-one thousand (20,820) estimated dispensing errors reported by pharmacists throughout the UK.
2. There were almost five-hundred thousand (499,651) additional dispensing errors that were NOT reported by pharmacists during the same year (2016).
3. This means that only about four percent (4%) of all errors were actually reported.
4. The assessment estimated that over sixty percent (62%) of the dispensing errors could be eliminated with a major increase in the sharing of information and an increase in education and discussion regarding the errors.
5. The proposed new UK legislation would then result in an estimated thirty percent (30%) reduction in medication errors in a four year time period. This means that over one-hundred and fifty thousand errors (156,503) would be prevented or eliminated each year.

The Monetary Impact Considerations In The United States

Now let’s extrapolate these estimates to the USA. It’s important to note that the UK assessment pointed out that there are numerous factors why a pharmacist would fail to report a medication dispensing mistake, but they estimated that over twenty percent (20%) of the non-reporting is due to the fear of prosecution.

As reported in 2016 by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), an estimated economic cost of over $20 billion in the United States is due to medical errors. This number obviously includes all errors, of which only a portion can be attributed to errors in Rx dispensing by pharmacists. However, as reported by the Institute of Healthcare Improvement’s National Patient Safety Foundation almost ten years ago (in 2007), an estimated 3 billion dispensing errors occur annually in retail pharmacies alone in the US.

Although there may be no way to actually extrapolate the monetary savings that could be realized, the possible reduction in deaths caused by dispensing errors is quite considerable. According to a report released by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are greater then seven-thousand (7,000) deaths annually in US hospitals alone that are directly attributed to medication dispensing errors. This number does not include any deaths that are related to dispensing errors made by retail pharmacies. The real question may be: If the UK assessment is correct and the proposed legislative change could result in a thirty percent (30%) reduction in medication errors in four years, would the saving of nearly 2,100 patient lives a year in our nation’s hospitals alone not justify the  change?

Contact HCC For Answers To Your Questions

With over 29 years of experience, Healthcare Consultants has been known as a national leader in regards to pharmacy consulting since 1989. Should you have any questions on how proposed legislation may affect your pharmacy or business, we encourage you to us contact us online now or call today at 800-642-1652. Let us help you ensure that your pharmacy operation has no issues by performing a comprehensive Compliance and Audit Review, or by simply having our experienced team of in-house pharmacy consultants address any questions or issues that you may have.


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