WV Pharmacists Want Malpractice Suit Protection--February 2009

February 26, 2009
Jessica A. Smith

West Virginia pharmacists and pharmacy students are appealing to legislators to be covered as health care providers under malpractice protection.

As pharmacists’ role in patient care continues to grow, the potential for malpractice lawsuits does, too. West Virginia pharmacists and pharmacy students are lobbying for a change in state legislature that would recognize pharmacists as health care providers, thereby protecting them from frivolous malpractice suits under the Medical Professional Liability Act.

The West Virginia Pharmacists Association helped mobilize pharmacists, along with >120 students from West Virginia University and the University of Charleston, for “Pharmacy Day at the Legislature” on February 16. The group met with legislators to voice their concerns, with students from both schools showing displays that depicted pharmacists providing hands-on services to patients. Bayer Corp, LifeScan, AccessHealth, and others also hosted such displays.

Enacted in 1986, the Medical Professional Liability Act provides liability protection to health care providers. The 2003 Medical Professional Liability Act later brought sweeping changes to the law, including placing caps on noneconomic damages paid to plaintiffs.

The act was revisited in 2007, when a patient who had to undergo extensive dialysis daily because of receiving toxic prescription dosages brought litigation against Larry’s Drive-In Pharmacy, alleging that the pharmacist there should have warned him of the possible toxicity of the prescription. The patient also sued his doctor, who enjoyed the protections afforded under the law.

The case went to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and Justice Larry Starcher ruled that pharmacies and pharmacists are not covered by the Medical Professional Liability Act.

“A pharmacy…does not have a hands-on independent medical relationship, but rather sees a patient only as a customer purchasing a product in a drugstore after the patient has visited his or her doctor and received a prescription,” Starcher stated in the ruling.

Those seeking to change the legislation to include pharmacists are highlighting the role of pharmacists as health care providers, as many provide screenings and services that go beyond the scope of their traditional role. For example, West Virginia law allows for pharmacists to administer immunizations.

Sen Jeffrey Kessler, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, gave the authorization for introduction of a law that would bring pharmacists within the scope of the act. From there, it will go before the full Senate for a vote.

For other articles in this issue, see:

Pharmacy-Based Programs a Win for Patients

Look in the Box: Patients Benefit from Rx Efficacy Data

Retail Pharmacists Experience Violence, Finds NIOSH