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When we think of hospital workers, we often think of physicians, nurses, nursing assistants, and technicians. These are the people we see face-to-face during a stay in the hospital, and each of them has an important role when it comes to patient safety. Some of the most important providers, however, are the employees of the hospital pharmacy, who are rarely seen by patients.

Pharmacy malpractice can be devastating, and it is surprisingly prevalent. Recent events have underscored the dangers inherent in dispensing powerful medications. Even seemingly small mistakes can lead to tragic outcomes resulting from avoidable complications or combinations of drugs. Unfortunately, hospital patients are even more vulnerable to pharmacy errors because they rarely know the medications they are receiving and they have fewer opportunities to ask questions of their pharmacist. This contributes to the potential for miscommunication among the doctors, nurses, and pharmacists involved in the patient’s care. For example, I am currently handling a case in which a clot-buster drug was administered through the incorrect IV line. The patient did not receive the full benefit of the drug, and she consequently lost her leg. This horrific injury could have been avoided had the pharmacist and/or the nurse approached the ordering physician with their concerns about the drug’s compatibility with other ongoing treatments.

Many hospital pharmacies are adapting new technologies that will hopefully avert mistakes like these. In addition, hospital pharmacists have sought to embrace a larger role in patient care, along with more accountability. While it is unlikely that pharmacy malpractice will ever become a thing of the past, let’s hope the increased attention to the issue will result in better outcomes for patients.

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