When a Walgreens pharmacy provided Beth Hippely with a blood thinner pill 10 times stronger than what her doctor had prescribed, she took it. She had filled her prescription for the blood thinner at the same pharmacy before and she had no way of knowing that a pharmacy technician had made a mistake and given her much more medication than her body, already weakened by cancer, could handle. There was also no way for Beth to foresee that this powerful drug would cause her to suffer a stroke, preventing her from getting life-saving cancer treatments, and eventually lead to her death just a few short years later.
Beth Hippely, like most people in Connecticut and the United States, took the prescription drugs she was given at her neighborhood pharmacy, never suspecting a medication error. The pharmaceutical doctor and pharmacy staff, however, should have known. There are no acceptable excuses for medication errors, which are an entirely preventable form of negligence or medical malpractice.
Hippely v. Walgreens
Walgreens is the largest and highest grossing pharmacy chain in America. Regardless of its status, its size may actually make its pharmacies more prone to medication errors. One case in point is a recent decision in Florida where an appeals court affirmed a plaintiff award of $33 million dollars for a wrongful death in Hippely v. Walgreens.
As part of her breast cancer treatment, Beth Hippely’s doctor prescribed her a blood thinner known as warfarin or Coumadin. Her usual dosage was a 1 mg pill, which is usually taken daily during a round of chemotherapy treatments. However, one of her pills was 10 times her prescription amount, which caused Beth to suffer a brain hemorrhage and physical paralysis.
The Hippely family filed a lawsuit on Beth’s behalf against Walgreens, claiming that the medication error, performed by the teenaged technician at the pharmacy directly lead to Beth’s death in 2007, because she could no longer receive chemotherapy after her injuries from the powerful medication.
While her family’s wrongful death suit against Walgreens was successful, many more people are harmed or killed from medication errors every year without repercussions for those doctors, pharmacists or other pharmacy personnel at fault.
Medications and Malpractice
According to the Institute of Medicine, approximately 1.5 million medication errors occur annually. As a result, people suffer injury or death from mostly preventable prescription mistakes made by doctors, pharmacists, nurses and other professionals tasked with prescribing or dispensing medical drugs. This all too common form of medical malpractice costs patients, family members, employers, health care facilities, providers and insurers billions of dollars every year.
In general, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices advises that medication errors can take the form of improper use, overuse or underuse. When patients fail to follow a medication’s directions, or cannot understand them, this causes improper use. However, if people are prescribed or dispensed certain dosages and strengths of their medications that are too high, this can lead to overuse of a drug. The opposite, or underuse, happens if doses are skipped or incorrect medications are taken by patients. As prescription drugs increasingly become a part of people’s daily lives, both medical professionals and patients must take more proactive measures to avoid injury or death due to medication errors.
Errors with prescription medications are a particularly preventable form of medical malpractice, so there are no excuses when these mistakes happen. Although the circumstances of Beth Hippely’s death were unfortunate, her story teaches anyone who takes prescription drugs valuable lessons. One of these lessons is for patients to closely monitor any medications that are prescribed or dispensed to them, without exception.
The Department of Consumer Protection for the State of Connecticut offers several ways in which people can avoid becoming victims of medical errors:
- Carry a list of the medications you take and know both their brand and generic names, what they do, how to take them and any possible side effects they may cause.
- For any new prescriptions, have a doctor or other medical professional review your list of current medications for possible adverse interactions.
- Consult a pharmacist or doctor as soon as possible if you have any questions about the prescription drug’s written directions or warnings or if you discover multiple versions of this information.
- During a hospital visit, either you or a designated family member or friend should ask about any medications that are dispensed and verify why you are taking them.
Even if you forget some of these steps, simply asking questions could be the most lifesaving measure you can perform when it comes to averting potential medication errors.
When medical malpractice or negligence occurs, as it did in Beth Hippely’s case with the medication error, the responsible parties should be held accountable for their role in causing the injury or death of another person. Victims of medical mistakes and their families deserve to be compensated for pain and suffering or wrongful death. Seeking the help of a Connecticut personal injury attorney should be the first step after a negligent act or medical malpractice tragedy occurs.