Pharmacies are in trouble and that means consumers are as well. Pharmacists are overworked, pharmacies are understaffed and the number of prescription errors is on the rise. What can be done? The number of elderly Americans is growing and that means more prescriptions. Here are a few ways to reduce human errors in pharmacies.
Modernize the Pharmacy
Technology helps in a busy store. Consumers have the ability to call in and leave refill requests. Further, many doctors submit prescriptions electronically. The pharmacist does not need to stop working and answer the phone. In the past, errors were caused by hand-counting pills. It’s difficult if the technician is trying to count out 90 pills. Indeed, most insurance companies will only pay for a 90-day supply of maintenance medication. Pharmacy techs need to use an automated tablet counter. There are special counters available for high-volume pharmacies. Further, retail companies may invest in robotic counters.
Organization is Essential
An organized workflow helps to prevent human error in many types of businesses. The area should be neat and free from clutter. Clutter causes distractions. There should be an organized system for shelving medication. Place the bottles in alphabetical order or group like medications together. Tasks should be standard like finishing with one prescription before moving onto another.
Reduce Patient Errors
Doctors need to explain medication to patients. Let them know what the medicine will do and how they will feel. More time needs to be spent on patient counseling. Likewise, consumers should be their own advocate. Make sure the pharmacy is giving you the correct medicine and the precise dosage. Pharmacists have a duty to answer any questions. There are so many drug manufacturers and they produce medicines differently. The same pill from one company may look different from one made elsewhere. Question the staff if your medicine looks different.
An elderly woman sustained kidney damage because her blood pressure was uncontrolled. She was given prescriptions for Norvasc, Metoprolol, and Doxazosin. The woman’s health got worse and she had many emergency room visits. She complained of personality changes, difficulty walking and chest pains. After several months, it was discovered the pharmacy had given her the anti-psychotic medication Navane instead of Norvasc. Experts say incidents like this happen all the time.
Adequately Staff the Pharmacy
A pharmacist who worked for a major retailer wrote a blistering letter to the editor of a newspaper. In the letter, the pharmacist described working 10 hours standing in the same spot except for bathroom breaks. He verified over 600 prescriptions during this time. The government describes safe dispensing as 10 to 20 prescriptions an hour. This pharmacist was dispensing almost 60 per hour. In addition, pharmacists have extra duties like giving flu shots. Some major retailers are cutting back on the number of pharmacy techs in the store to save money. Stores need to be fully staffed so job duties can be shared.
Pharmacy techs play an important role. They manage the pill counter, conduct inventory, stock shelves and handle problems with doctors and insurance companies. However, they’re paid less than $40,000 per year. Making sure techs are properly trained and adequately paid is essential to reducing human error.
Experts say many errors occur because there’s insufficient staff to double-check prescriptions. Staffing is definitely a problem that needs to be resolved at retail pharmacies. Automation helps but technology is not always 100 percent accurate. In the meantime, consumers should check their medications before leaving the store.