Prescription drug errors: Who is responsible?

Problems with prescription drugs are one of the most common sources of medical errors. Mislabeled medications, incorrect dosages and negative drug interactions can cause serious health problems up to and including death. However, if the unthinkable does happen and you are harmed by a prescription drug error, is it the fault of the doctor or pharmacist? In the case of problematic drug combinations and interactions, it may be both.

Physician negligence

Your doctor has the primary duty of ensuring that any medications prescribed are not known to interact with each other. This includes keeping a detailed record of all medications that you are currently on, as well as dosages, and keeping up with industry information on potential and known interactions as it is released. While your doctor may not be able to anticipate every possible interaction, if the drugs are known to interact with each other and your doctor does not warn you of potential risks, he/she may be able to be held liable.

Pharmacist responsibility

Whether or not the pharmacist is liable for a negative drug interaction is a little bit more of a gray area and is one reason why it's important to talk with a medical malpractice attorney about the details of your case. Pharmacists generally have a duty to warn the patient about a potential drug interaction. However, the pharmacist is usually only able to be held liable in court if both prescriptions were filled at that pharmacy. This is because the pharmacist may have no knowledge of the other prescription if it was filled somewhere else and therefore be unaware that there is even the need to check for an interaction. If both prescriptions are filled at the same pharmacy, the software will usually alert the pharmacist that an interaction is possible. The pharmacist then has the duty to warn either the patient or the physician of the interaction.

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