Pharmacists in dozens of states have accused CVS, Walgreens and other major pharmacy chains of putting the public at risk of medication errors because of poorly staffed and chaotic workplaces, The New York Times reported in January.
In letters to state pharmacy boards and in interviews with The Times, pharmacists said they struggled to keep up with an increasing number of tasks — filling prescriptions, giving flu shots, tending the drive-through, answering phones and calling patients — while racing to meet corporate performance metrics they characterized as excessive and unsafe.
The pharmacy chains, including CVS, have pushed back on employees’ complaints, saying staffing is sufficient and errors are rare.
Most state investigations focus on pharmacists, not conditions in their workplaces. In Oklahoma, the state board has begun investigating broader workplace issues when responding to complaints and doing routine inspections.
In mid-January, two board compliance officers went to a CVS in Bartlesville, Okla., to investigate a complaint of a mislabeled prescription. There, they “witnessed a chaotic scene including the phones ringing almost all of the time, along with constant foot traffic and drive thru traffic,” according to a complaint filed against CVS.
The officers discussed the error with the head pharmacist, noting that she said “she had lost a considerable amount of her support staff, and that the pharmacy was operating with little help, so she was not terribly surprised that an error could have occurred.”
In an audit, the officers found an error rate of nearly 22 percent, or 66 errors out of 305 prescriptions. Some of the mistakes were minor and would not affect a patient — such as the incorrect name of a prescribing physician — but others were more significant, like instructions for medications that were unclear or substantially different from what they should have been.