According to the NIH, prescription errors are a relative rarity. However, when they do occur, they often have grave consequences. Patients can experience severe side effects, medication injuries, and even death when the wrong medication is dispensed, the dosage is wrong, or if the label contains errors. Even in the best-case scenario — the pharmacist or patient catches the mistake before the medication is taken — those errors erode trust and can even expose your pharmacy to lawsuits. As the above-cited NIH study states, error prevention matters “because pharmacies dispense such high volumes of medications that even a low error rate can translate into a large number of errors.”
So how can your pharmacy protect itself and its patients?
Fatigue seems to be an inevitable part of the pharmacist’s job, with Healthday pointing out the long hours and high pressure that come with the job. The pressure is compounded in more successful pharmacies, since the high traffic means long hours and a demand to fill prescriptions quickly. Careful scheduling that allows for rest and prevents fatigue can help cut error rates.
Train Your Staff
The demands placed on pharmacists have resulted in many of them shifting more responsibility to clerks and technicians. While pharmacy techs and clerks technically carry no responsibility for a medication error, that doesn't mean the pharmacist — and, by extension, your pharmacy — is off the hook. Implement checks at all steps in the dispensing process to ensure accuracy.
Verify, Then Verify Again
There are several steps in the dispensing process that can introduce error. A hastily-scrawled prescription, misplaced or illegible decimal point, medication names that are very similar, a phoned-in prescription, or similar patient names in the same household can all lead to errors. Ensure that everything is being confirmed and double-checked, and ensure that anything that doesn't look right is followed up on.
As mentioned earlier, it’s not uncommon to encounter drugs with similar names — even from the same manufacturer. Organize your pharmacy shelving in such a way that those drugs aren't kept in close proximity, label clearly, and use “tall man lettering” to distinguish between similar medications (e.g., HydrALAZINE and HydrOXYZINE). As an added step, set alerts in your systems to flag error-prone drugs and doses.
We understand that your time is finite. However, that rather underscores the importance of introducing — or re-emphasizing — a key final step in the process: counsel your patients. Taking the time to talk to your patients will help with adherence and build their confidence in you, but just as importantly, it’s one last chance to catch dispensing errors before the patient and their medication leave the premises.
Optimize Pharmacy Workflow
The more haphazard your workflow, the more likely errors are to happen. Poor filing, entry, and checking procedures can lead to their own problems. After all, dispensing the correct medication only to find that it’s expired or has been improperly stored won’t do your pharmacy any favors. Better workflow means less repetition (and, in turn, less fatigue), fewer errors, and more time to devote to other mission-critical tasks, so it’s important to get it right. For help doing just that, reach out to Shelving Design Systems.