Prescription errors and telemedicine: A solution or a problem?

Will telemedicine help reduce pharmaceutical errors?

Prescription errors can happen to anyone. Recently, a pharmacist filled a prescription for a 24-year-old woman that was 10 times stronger than the doctor prescribed. The woman needs the medication to help manage her epilepsy. Without it, she can suffer dangerous seizures.

When she went to fill her prescription from her physician the pharmacy gave her the medication in 100 milligram pills. The physician wrote the prescription specifically for 10 milligram pills. The woman took her medication and noticed unusual side effects. She was suddenly very lethargic, sleeping through most days. The pharmacy had made the mistake not once, but three times before the woman discovered the error.

Unfortunately, this recent example is just one of many. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that almost half of the population in the United States has used a prescription within the last 30 days. This creates an enormous potential for medication errors. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates 1.3 million people suffer medication errors on an annual basis in the U.S. Of these errors, medications most frequently used by those over the age of 50 suffered the most frequent error rates. Examples include high blood pressure medications, insulin for the management of diabetes and opioids for pain relief.

One proposed solution to the problem of pharmaceutical errors is the use of telemedicine. The practice of medicine is changing. Technology-based meetings are used at an increasing rate. These meetings are used to establish a patient-provider relationship. Those in favor of the use of technology to establish this relationship point to the opportunity for one-on-one consultations and follow-up meetings with patients. This increased interaction, it is argued, could decrease the risk of mistakes. Critics point to concerns about the strength of the relationship. Will a video conference provide enough of a basis for a patient/doctor relationship? Critics are not yet convinced. Another hurdle involves licensure issues. A physician's license to practice medicine is state specific. Conducting these types of meeting with a patient in another state is a violation of the physician's license.

Physicians are often allowed to provide these services for patients within their own state. In Florida, physicians who offer these services can receive reimbursement through the state's Medicaid program for real time, interactive telemedicine. But what happens if a telemedicine conference leads to a medication error and injury to the patient? These errors are generally the result of negligence. As such, the patient could hold the physician or pharmacist liable for their error through a civil suit. A pharmaceutical error attorney can review your case and discuss your options.

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