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Prescription mixups happen; and yet don't have to be reported

With all of the provisions of the enormously huge Obama Health Care plan, including digitizing all medical records (electronic medical records), I am a bit taken aback to find that prescriptions can still go from doctor to pharmacist on hand written slips. And that because of this, mistakes are inherent and patients are basically... well basically plain and simply given the wrong medicine. Because you know how doctors' handwriting can be.

But what's more, there is no requirement on the part of pharmacists or doctors to report to anyone when prescription mixups occur. So we don't know any statistics on how often this happens.

I realized this when reading an article about an Arizona woman, Heather Sparling, who had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease two years ago and who was recently prescribed medicine to treat an ear infection and sinus infection. She had the scripts filled at her local Walgreens Pharmacy. Two days later, her condition worsened. And then she got a phone call. It was a Walgreens employee telling her that she had been given the wrong medicine.

Said Sparling, "She said, 'Well, we probably couldn't read the doctor's handwriting.' I said, 'I know that's not possible because the prescription was printed out. She kind of paused and said, 'Well, they both begin with H."

Dr. Donald Bucklin, who is the regional medical director at U.S. Health Works, said prescription mixups are very common.

Bucklin said there's no way to tell exactly how many mistakes are made. Most pharmacies do not report errors because state and federal laws don't require them to do so. That's why the patient should always be vigilant.

"Make the doctor tell it. Make the doctor spell it. Make the doctor write it down for you. Just be an aware consumer, and everyone will be safer," Bucklin said.

Sparling said she believes more still needs to be done. She is right.

"I think somebody else needs to be accountable for the situation since they're not having to tell any authorities the problem has happened," Sparling said.

Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso sent CBS 5 News this statement:

"We're sorry this occurred and we apologized to the patient. We have a multistep prescription filling process with numerous safety checks in each step to reduce the chance of human error. We reviewed this incident and will work to prevent it from happening again."

Stage 1 of Obama's "Meaningful Use" initially included requirements that prescriptions were barcoded and checked and matched to patient history. This was classified as a "life saving" measure. Yet it was dumped from Stage 1, while statistical data requirements were left in place (reporting patients per day seen, average age of patient, that sort of thing).

Well, having said all this... I am prescribed an antidepressant (generic version of Zoloft) and yet multiple times, the pharmacist has given me paroxotene (maybe paxil)... I fortunately can tell the difference in the look of the pills and I just take them back and get the right stuff. I suppose an antidepressant is an antidepressant to the pharmacy.

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