March 7, 2011

Dispensing Errors: Their Causes and Preventions

Filed under: Uncategorized — publicandprivatespace @ 10:04 am

By: Zack Deidesheimer

The issue of keeping medical and pharmaceutical information private for all patients is a highly debated topic. In a world in which medicinal technology has advanced the way it has and will continue to advance, a patient’s privacy becomes more and more important. For obvious reasons, people want to keep their medical information private, such as the prescriptions they fill and the reason for which they are taking them. With the number of prescriptions filled increasing by the day, it becomes much harder to keep such information as private and secure at a retail pharmacy. Private information can be leaked in a variety of ways. One way that occurs dangerously often is through pharmacists’ dispensing errors.

In any work environment, let alone one that is crowed and chaotic, mistakes are unavoidable. Retail pharmacies have changed computer systems quite often, but nothing seems to stop the increase in dispensing errors. In fact, I am arguing that due to the constant changing in methods of dispensing drugs, dispensing errors occur too often. Possible contributing factors to these errors are pharmacist fatigue, interruptions to dispensing, and the chaotic environment that is a retail pharmacy.

Dispensing errors occur in many different forms. The error that occurs most often is someone being given the wrong prescription. Private information can be leaked by making this mistake. On each prescription bottle is the patient’s name, doctor, and the name of the medication. This may be information that a patient does not want others to know. For example, a pharmacist may accidentally put someone’s medication in the wrong bag with a different name on the label. Therefore, the bag would be given to the person whose name is on the outside. This person would then see the name of the patient who is taking this particular medication. The patient who is actually taking the medication might be embarrassed and not want others to know what they are taking, and feels that their privacy has been invaded. Situations like this one occur a lot more often as the number of patients increase and systems for dispensing medications keep changing.

I currently work as a pharmacy technician at a retail pharmacy, so I see the causes of dispensing errors firsthand. One reason they occur so often is the chaotic environment. Phones are constantly ringing and everyone is talking so it can be hard for the pharmacist to be completely focused on the prescription he is checking. Another reason for dispensing errors is that pharmacists are constantly being interrupted by things such as phone calls and questions from technicians and patients. A pharmacist may have so many interruptions that by the time he gets back to checking the prescription he may have forgotten what he is doing which can lead to a mistake. However, the main reason for dispensing errors is probably the number of prescriptions filled each day. If a pharmacist is filling hundreds of prescriptions every day, then the odds mistakes occurring will continue to increase.

Based on pharmacists’ attitudes toward dispensing errors, it is clear that I am not the only one that has noticed the increase. Dr. G.M. Peterson conducted a questionnaire in which he tried to determine if the risk in dispensing errors is increasing. He received responses from 209 pharmacists and 82% believed that the risk of dispensing errors is increasing. Some of the main contributing factors that the pharmacists’ pointed out were high prescription volumes, pharmacist fatigue, and interruptions to dispensing.

These are all characteristics of a busy retail pharmacy, which brings me to my main point that the whole idea of a retail pharmacy needs to be revolutionized. A pharmacy that resembles a quieter and less chaotic place such as a doctor’s office would cause the amount of dispensing errors to decrease. Pharmacists would not be as fatigued and be able to focus on dispensing the correct medication to the right person. A pharmacy with less dispensing errors would cause patients to feel more comfortable in knowing that their personal information is kept private.

1 Comment »

  1. While I feel your argument for dispensing errors is valid, I feel it is one-sided towards the larger retail pharmacies, even more specifically large retail pharmacy chains. I personally volunteered at a small, locally owned retail pharmacy this past summer. Seeing as there was not as much traffic in this pharmacy as larger pharmacies, many of these mistakes were easily avoided. Once a prescription comes in a technician or pharmacist will immediately take the prescription, fill it themselves, create a label, and also, to further avoid errors, they will leave the prescription with the order and the bottle from which the pills were dispensed for another employee of the pharmacy to double check their pill dispensing. This system makes it very easy for the pharmacy to avoid any potential errors.

    Within this pharmacy there is often even down time between prescription fills, causing the chaos that you mentioned to also be easily evaded. As to these facts I would argue that this dispensing error is not present in all pharmacies and that your argument is very slanted. In order to get a better overall view of this idea I believe it is necessary to evaluate the different types of retail pharmacies from those huge, chain stores to the small, privately owned entities. To fully understand this idea you need to fully research all available pharmacy venues.

    -Jenna Coffey

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 2:20 pm | Reply

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