What to do with a prescription bottle with the wrong pills inside

Have you ever opened a prescription bottle to find the wrong pills inside? If so, you may have found it to be an expensive mistake.

Whatever the reason for the error (and there are numerous possible causes), here is how to best handle the situation.

Of course, it is always smart to confirm the medications, quantities and dosages at the pharmacy checkout.  A mistake recognized at the time of purchase can be easily corrected.

It becomes more of a problem if you discover the error after you are home.  Due to concerns of tampering, pharmacies will not usually allow return of medications that have left the store, especially if the bag or bottle has been opened.

Once you notice the mistake, your pharmacist should be able to quickly make things right, but the payment side can be tricky.

  • If not covered under insurance, full payment for the corrected prescription may be necessary, even though you paid for the first.
  • Even if insurance covered some or all of the first prescription, you may be responsible for a second co-pay, or even full price of the replacement.

If you are faced with possible extra expense, first ask your pharmacist how best to handle it.  There may be an insurance protocol for this very situation, although the solution might not be immediate.  Some pharmacies might decide not to charge you for the corrected prescription, especially if they contributed to the error.

If the physician’s practice appears to be the culprit, don’t immediately call for the doctor or nurse–the office manager is the person to call.  Keep in mind that they will need to look into the situation to find out what actually occurred on their end.  If it truly was an error on their part, you can expect an apology and reimbursement for your extra costs.

Stephen Meyers is a family physician who blogs at The Med Savings Blog.


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  • http://www.myheartsisters.org Carolyn Thomas

    Let me get this straight: you open your prescription bottle, realize that the pharmacist has screwed up, you survive the error because you have noticed it before taking the wrong meds – how many of us who take small white pills would even notice? – and then you are stuck for the expense when you have to go all the way back to the pharmacy because of THEIR potentially deadly mistake?

    A mere apology and reimbursement is hardly the reaction I’d be looking for. Is there no investigative or licensing body that these “errors” can be reported to?

    • Lorie Shewbridge

      Yes, it is a terrible thing that MISTAKES do happen.
      But everyone is human and they can happen. Hopefully you have a relationship with your pharmacy and you can talk to them and get things straightened out without any hassles. I had the wrong strength dispensed from my local pharmacy that I use all the time. I called them as soon as I got home and noticed and they just told me to come back and they would correct the problem, no questions asked.
      As for a doctor’s office prescribing the incorrect medicine, I again would hope that a patient would be understanding and talk to the office to work things out.
      In this letigious society someone is always looking for someone to BLAME… again, we are all human – doctors and pharmacists are not gods, they can make mistakes. If no harm was done, take the apology and move on… if it becomes a pattern, then do something about it.

  • Cassivella

    I think the author is talking about a couple of issues.

    If the pharmacy actually put the wrong drug in the bottle, then of course the pharmacy is going to take the hit on the cost.

    However, if the doctor writes the prescription for the wrong medication, then the prescription was actually filled correctly, even if it isn’t the medication you should be taking.

    In my over 8 years in pharmacy, I can guarantee you that medication errors (wrong drug, wrong dosage, wrong quantity) originated at the doctor’s office much more often than from the pharmacy. Most people never realize this, as the error is normally caught by the pharmacy and the doctor is called and a proper prescription is phoned in.

    Hopefully, with the move to electronic prescribing, most of these errors can be prevented at the doctor’s office level (as well as the pharmacy level).

    In these cases, the pharmacy should not be expected to give a freebie out. The doctor’s office should be liable for reimbursing both the pharmacy for the medication and you for your co-pay.

    However, there really aren’t any protocols in place for a doctor to reimburse the pharmacy. So, what usually happens is that the insurance claim for the wrong medication is never reversed, and if you are lucky, the pharmacy will throw you a bone and reimburse the co-pay for the wrong medication.

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