Don’t Be in a Hurry at the Pharmacy!

Although we may not realize it, pharmacies can be one of the most dangerous places we visit in our day-to-day lives. The majority of American adults take one or more prescription drugs regularly. Medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. each year, and errors made in prescribing medicine or in filling prescription medicine are a significant cause of that.


Over 1.5 million Americans are harmed by medication errors each year! 

According to the FDA, the four primary reasons for prescription errors are as follows:

  • poor communication
  • ambiguities in product names, directions for use, medical abbreviations or writing
  • poor procedures or techniques
  • patient misuse because of poor understanding of the directions for use of the product

Poor Communication

Communication begins with the prescribing doctor (or R.N.), and continues at the pharmacy. Your doctor and pharmacist are legally, and perhaps more important, ethically obligated to answer any questions you have about the medication you have been prescribed.

For your own safety, you should speak with your doctor and pharmacist about your prescription. You should be sure that they both explain how the medication works, how you administer it, and be absolutely certain there are no inconsistencies between them. If there are, that is a potential red flag for a prescription error!

Ambiguities in Product Names, Directions for Use, Medical Abbreviations or Writing

Some well-held beliefs are truer than others. Doctors have bad handwriting, pharmacies always move slowly, and lawyers are the some of the best people in the world. (We believe that one!) This isn’t all about doctors and poor handwriting, unfortunately. Nearly all pharmacies employ technicians. Being a technician is hard work, you have to fill prescriptions, interact with customers, and perform nearly all of the duties that a pharmacist is generally considered to handle.

There’s just one problem: becoming a pharmacy technician requires very little training. To become a pharmacist, you need six or more years of post-secondary education. To become a pharmacy technician (and perform many of the same responsibilities!), you just need 20 hours of training every two years. You don’t need to have completed college or high school, and this is where the real problems begin.

Poor Procedures or Techniques

If you get a Filet-O-Fish instead of a Big Mac at McD’s, that can be annoying. If you get the wrong prescription, that can be harmful, or even deadly. What’s the difference between giving a child generic Ritalin to treat their ADHD, and opioids used to detox Heroin users? A few letters, or a few inches on a pharmacy shelf: Methylphenidate versus Methadone.

For a trained, educated pharmacist, this is a mistake that won’t happen. For the pharmacy technician who may only have 18 hours more training than a McDonald’s employee? It happens, and it’s terrifying.

This is not an attack on pharmacy technicians, but it is a warning: they are not the authority within the pharmacy. That is the pharmacist’s job, and they are obligated to be available to patients whenever they have questions about their prescription. When pharmacists do not make themselves readily available to their patients, they put them in the hands of technicians who simply don’t have enough education and training to provide a standard of care.

When you receive your prescription, the technician is required to offer you the opportunity to speak with the pharmacist. If you have any questions at all, you should take that opportunity. The extra few minutes to clarify your questions are worth it. Being a few minutes late to your next obligation pales in comparison to being injured by a misfilled prescription!

Although the rate at which Americans consume prescription medication grows every year like clockwork, the number of pharmacists has not. This means that pharmacies are usually overworked and understaffed, and typically employ an under-educated support staff. Becoming a pharmacist requires many years of post-secondary education, but becoming a pharmacy technician only requires a GED and a few training courses. The wrong medication can be life-threatening, as can the wrong dosage of the right medication!

Patient Misuse Because of Poor Understanding of the Directions for Use of the Product

This is the most fixable error of them all. Talk to your doctor when they prescribe the medication. Talk to your pharmacist when you receive your prescription. If the directions are still unclear, or if you have forgotten: call your doctor or pharmacist, and ask for clarification. They will be glad to provide you with the proper instructions.

They are your healthcare providers, after all, and their job is to make sure you take the medicine they have provided in the way that it was prescribed.

Every single one of these potential causes of prescription error is in some way a result of trying to make things move as quickly as possible at the pharmacy. For your safety, don’t be in a hurry. Get your prescription and receive advisement from the pharmacist, so you can know with certainty that you have the right medication, in the dosage your doctor prescribed.