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An investigation by USA Today has revealed that pharmacy errors at the nation’s largest drugstore chains, Walgreens and CVS, are caused by corporate policies requiring that pharmacists work long hours and fill prescriptions in as little as two minutes.

A study by Auburn University in 2003 projected that the odds of getting a prescription as the result of an error by the filling pharmacist was about 1 in 1,000, which amounts to roughly 3.7 million errors per year. The results of the study undertaken by USA Today demonstrates that the corporate policies that require that pharmacists fill a certain number of prescriptions each day and reward “fast work” contribute to pharmacy errors.

The chain pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, fill so many prescriptions that pharmacists are forced to work long hours with few breaks. Some “guidelines” obtained by USA Today show that pharmacists are supposed to be able to fill prescriptions in as little as two minutes, which leaves no time to counsel patients about prescriptions. The watchdog group Institute for Safe Medication Practices believes that such policies place “speed above safety”, citing an investigation in Massachusetts that substantiated 62 drug errors.

Chains are increasingly relying on pharmacy technicians, who don’t possess the same degree of training as pharmacists, to fill prescriptions, and errors by technicians are not always detected. Bonuses are also paid to pharmacists based on meeting company goals for filling presriptions by the time promised to patients.

Shipman & Wright, LLP handles cases for patients who have been harmed by pharmacy errors.

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