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How Chaos At Chain Pharmacies is Putting Patients At Risk



January 31, 2020 The New York Times


For Alyssa Watrous, the medication mix-up meant a pounding headache, nausea and dizziness. In September, Ms. Watrous, a 17-year-old from Connecticut, was about to take another asthma pill when she realized CVS had mistakenly given her blood pressure medication intended for someone else.


Edward Walker, 38, landed in an emergency room, his eyes swollen and burning after he put drops in them for five days in November 2018 to treat a mild irritation. A Walgreens in Illinois had accidentally supplied him with ear drops — not eye drops.

For Mary Scheuerman, 85, the error was discovered only when she was dying in a Florida hospital in December 2018. A Publix pharmacy had dispensed a powerful chemotherapy drug instead of the antidepressant her doctor had prescribed. She died about two weeks later.


The people least surprised by such mistakes are pharmacists working in some of the nation’s biggest retail chains.


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 — all the while racing to meet corporate performance metrics that they characterized as unreasonable and unsafe in an industry squeezed to do more with less.


In Missouri, dozens of pharmacists said in a recent survey by the state board that the focus on metrics was a threat to patient safety and their own job security.


“Metrics put unnecessary pressure on pharmacy staff to fill prescriptions as fast as possible, resulting in errors,” one pharmacist wrote.


Of the nearly 1,000 pharmacists who took the survey, 60 percent said they “agree” or “strongly agree” that they “feel pressured or intimidated to meet standards or metrics that may interfere with safe patient care.” About 60 percent of respondents worked for retail chains, as opposed to hospitals or independent pharmacies.


Surveys in Maryland and Tennessee revealed similar concerns.

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