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The risks you need to know about mail-order pharmacy services

Convenience (and insurance company profits) comes at the risk of a bigger risk to patients

A wrongful death medical malpractice lawsuit against a mail-order pharmacy highlights some of the unique risks to using this type of service to fill your prescriptions.

It’s well-known that health insurance companies are putting the squeeze on everything imaginable to boost their profits. One of the health insurance industry’s most recent ideas, which has been widely implemented, is to require patients to fill regular prescriptions through the mail, rather than at brick and mortar pharmacies.

While I have no doubt that there are some cost savings to health insurance companies, there are some significant risks to patients. These include:

• Waiting for insurance approval for a prescription.

• An additional waiting period for processing and shipping a prescription.

• Uncertainty if medications are shipped at unsafe temperatures that can make certain prescription drugs ineffective or deadly.

One patient was reported to have complained about her breast cancer medication. An oncologist prescribed a prescription drug that needed to be stored between 68-77° Fahrenheit. When the medicine arrived by a delivery truck, the patient noticed that the outside temperature was 97° and the cargo area of the delivery truck was not air conditioned.

• Unavailability of the pharmacist to speak with you when you pick up a prescription.

At local pharmacies in Texas, this is required by law. I always recommend that patients take advantage of this time to ask questions, including discussing other medications you take and conditions that you have to make sure there’s no risk of a dangerous drug interaction.

• Receiving a different drug than what was prescribed for you. This can happen when they dispense the wrong drug for you or send you someone else’s prescription.

This last mail-order pharmacy error is what led to the death of the patient, a woman in her 70s who lived at home. She was a dialysis patient with other medical problems including high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. She got around by a wheelchair and used a mail-order pharmacy service to fill her prescriptions.

The mail-order pharmacy company set her the wrong prescription medication. The woman took the medication, which caused her blood pressure to plummet and for her to experience confusion and hallucinations. As a result, she had a bad fall that ended up leading to her death from an infection and sepsis.

In the wrongful death lawsuit, an investigation revealed that the mail-order pharmacy sent another patient’s prescription drug to this woman by mistake. The label had the other person’s name on it and the correct name of the medication in the bottle.

The woman didn’t notice the pharmacy’s mistake because the pills were similar to ones she had taken before.

According to lawsuit pleadings, the pharmacy pointed its finger at the deceased woman, saying that she, too, was at fault because she should’ve read the medication label before taking it.

What you can do

If at all possible, I recommend getting your prescriptions—and particularly new ones—at a local pharmacy where you can receive counseling and ask questions to the pharmacist. If your health insurance company requires you to use a mail-order pharmacy service, be aware of the serious additional risks and do your due diligence before taking the medication.

• When your physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner prescribes a medication, ask for a printed copy of the prescription.

• When you receive the medication, check the drug label to make sure that it has your name on it.

• Compare the drug label to the prescription to make sure that the medication name, dosage, and instructions are the same. Sometimes a prescription will be for a brand name, but the pharmacy will use a generic equivalent. If you don’t recognize the drug name, call your doctor or prescriber to make sure it’s okay.

• Look on the drug label for a description of the medication appearance, which will, at a minimum, include the color of the pills and any writing that should be on them.

If anything doesn’t look right on any of these points, call the pharmacy service and your doctor before taking any of the medication.

I’ve handled a lot of cases involving pharmacy errors. Every time I help a new client in a pharmacy error case at Painter Law Firm, I am reminded of how many things can go wrong with something that seems as simple as filling a prescription.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of a pharmacy or medication error, then contact a top-rated experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.

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