Pharmacy technicians fill patient prescriptions, but are not required to have any special education
You go to your local pharmacy to have your prescription filled, just like you have a number of times before. You give the handwritten prescription to the young person behind the desk and they return with your prescription, complete with a label on the front and the pre-printed instructions in the bag. You take the prescription as directed on the label and soon you develop a severe headache. Without any warning you unknowingly have developed significant bleeding inside your brain and before very long you have suffered brain injury so severe that you cannot communicate or move most of your body. You find yourself severely brain injured and are incapable of caring for the three children you held so dearly.
This is what happened to one of my clients. It seems like such a small mistake; just an extra key typed. You probably think that a pharmacist fills your prescription when you bring it into your pharmacy. That’s not the case. The actual person filling your prescription is the pharmacy technician. Pharmacy technicians are essentially assistants or helpers to the pharmacists. Pharmacy technicians are not required to have any education at all. They simply must be 16 years of age in Florida to qualify to fill prescriptions in a pharmacy.
Pharmacy technicians perform a vital role in the filling process. They interpret the physician’s handwritten prescription, record the information into the computer system, generate a label, affix it to the vial, and place the medication in the vial. Each one of these steps are critical in the dispensing of drugs that, taken incorrectly, can result in death or severe injury. These are very critical steps because at any point, the physician’s handwriting could be messy or the prescribed amount could be suspect. The opportunities for mistakes are endless; including questions of milligrams vs. milliliters, whether a given drug is ever prescribed in the suggested amount, and drug interactions. Physicians often write in shorthand and abbreviate medical terms and dosages which pharmacy technicians need to be able to understand.
In my client’s case, Walgreens’ pharmacy technician entered the wrong dosage of a very dangerous blood thinner, Coumadin, into the computer. In turn, the information on the label was wrong and the medication placed into the vial was wrong. In fact it was so wrong that it was 10 times the dose it was supposed to be. Coumadin is a drug that thins out the blood to prevent too much clotting in certain patients. The more given to the patient, the more the blood refuses to clot and the easier it is for blood to leak out of vessels and into areas of the brain where it does not belong.
The educational level of the pharmacy technician who made this lethal error: a 18 year old high school student whose former job was cleaning movie theaters and making popcorn. So how does the pharmacy justify using young, untrained employees? The conclusion is inescapable: trained pharmacists cost more than young technicians and it permits an environment in which more prescriptions can be filled faster and pharmacies can make more money.
The death of my client was not intentional. The error on the part of the assistant was an accident. What is the real cause of these types of incidents? Most of the time, profits over people; a corporate pratice of devising ways to maximize profits that emphasize profits and lose sight of safety.