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Doctors and pharmacies face different malpractice tests

Physicians and pharmacists may share the same goal of helping people live longer and better lives. But two recent cases remind us that legal duties differ from role to role in the healthcare system.

The results of the suits show how pharmacies and clinics may work hand in hand, according to a column at Pharmacy Today, but they cannot always borrow each other’s legal reasoning.

Malpractice suits need an expert witness

In Massachusetts, just as in Arizona and many other states, someone filing a medical malpractice suit must include a written statement from a qualified medical expert saying the lawsuit can go ahead.

Details needed for these statements vary from state to state, but the goal is always to weed out frivolous suits before the court takes them up.

In Massachusetts case, a pharmacy’s computer system alerted a pharmacist that a patient had an allergy to a medicine their doctor had prescribed. But looking deeper into the patient’s entry, the pharmacist saw the patient denied having the allergy and took the medicine several times in the past.

Court says doctor’s opinion does not apply

The patient and the medical expert agreed that the pharmacist fell short of the “standard of care.” But during questioning, the doctor admitted that he did not know the standard of care for a pharmacist in a situation like that.

The court found the patient had not, in fact, filed an opinion by an expert in the field and dismissed the case.

Overlapping responsibilities do not mean the same duties

The message of the case, the Pharmacy Today columnist says, is that the duties of everyone in healthcare may overlap in some ways. But that does not always mean that legal standard care is the same for everyone, or that there are healthcare professionals who can speak for everyone.