According to the American Pharmacy Purchasing Alliance, medication errors are relatively common in pharmacies. Of course, mistakes can lead to every consequence, from minor illness to death. But the harm these errors cause patients is very much avoidable. We will address why these errors occur in this article and ponder solutions to prevent mistakes.
Errors Occur – Why?
Possible causes of pharmacy errors are numerous and varied. Mistakes can happen from when the doctor prescribes to the point where the patient takes the medication. Here is a shortlist of where things can go wrong:
- Prescribing the incorrect medication.
- Prescribing the correct medication but dispensing the wrong dose.
- The pharmacist fails to identify the potential for dangerous complications, especially the harmful interaction of drugs taken by the patient.
- The pharmacist fails to counsel patients on the possibility of detrimental side effects of their prescribed medicines.
- The advertising or marketing occurs of defective or unsafe medications.
Patients put faith and trust in their pharmacies and pharmacists, so to say that the potential for error is concerning is a vast understatement. Let’s look at the contributing factors to these errors a little more closely.
- Pharmacists work very long hours. Pharmacist and pharmacy technician shifts in retail locations are usually 12 hours per day. During that time, pharmacists can fill, on average, 300 to 450 prescriptions. This pressure to fill as many medications as quickly as possible can lead to errors.
- Training is sub-par. Studies have looked at the training provided in retail pharmacies and have found it short compared to the importance of the role pharmacists play in patient health. There is not enough time spent on mentoring or training.
- Pharmacy Technicians lack sufficient supervision. Technicians are the right hand of pharmacists and do much of the leg-work in filling prescriptions: measuring, labeling, and dispensing. With the busyness of many pharmacies, the techs’ proper supervision can fall short.
- Inadequate communication with prescribing physicians. On both sides of the prescription equation, time demands prevent adequate communication between doctors and pharmacists. Relayed communication from doctors to their receptionists to the pharmacy technician to the pharmacist can be a recipe for an error along the way.
- Automated Systems can be confusing to some. Phone systems set-up to speed up filling and refilling prescriptions can fail to help older (less tech-savvy) patients. Reliance on these systems can lead to confusion and error.
How Can Errors Be Prevented?
The following list meets the errors listed above head on and should be considered in the quest to get rid of all pharmacy related errors.
- Proper staffing in place. The busyness of a pharmacy should be evaluated, and proper staffing should be maintained so that pharmacists and the technicians who help them have the opportunities for breaks and never feel they have to rush an order.
- A “double-check” system should be in place. One of the most significant errors is in the transcription of the prescription. Having a system where two people evaluate the medication and the dose with the receiving patient’s attributes is another way to ensure patient health and safety.
- Question illegible prescriptions. The prescribing doctor should verify anything unclear to the pharmacist about a written prescription. A pharmacist should not guess or assume.
- Don’t skip patient counseling. Whether the patient is asking for counseling should not excuse skipping this critical step. Freely provide information on how often to take the medication, with or without food, and common side effects as the patient is checking out.
It should go without saying that pharmacists never intentionally set out to harm a patient. Pharmacy retailers need to set them up for success so that they can take the extra time and care to do their job well for the sake of all patients.
If a pharmacy error has harmed you, contact our board-certified attorneys to evaluate your case: The Kennedy Law Firm, 713-425-6445. You may order a FREE copy of our book, “Making Pharmacies Pay for Their Errors,” to learn more about taking action because of a prescription error.