Keys to Minimizing Prescription Drug Errors
Patients come to the pharmacy to obtain their prescription, assuming their medication is safe and efficacious. However, according to the FDA, medication errors harm 1.3 million individuals each year and kill at least one person a day. Health care costs from medication errors in the U.S. are estimated to be $21 billion dollars per year.2
Why do medication errors occur—and what we can do about it? I have identified three areas of concern.
Inadequate work environment
Adequate pharmacist staffing is key to minimizing errors. Nearly half of the pharmacists from all health care settings reported that they “had so much work to do that everything cannot be done well” in a 2014 National Pharmacists Workforce Survey.3 Additionally, more than half of the chain and retail pharmacists reported high stress work environments from “having to meet quotas” and “not being staffed with an adequate number of technicians.”3 Such working conditions are a breeding ground for medication errors.
In his article “Understanding Medication Errors: A Cognitive Systems Approach,” Dr. Anthony Grasha noted that pharmacists have a limited ability to stay and focused.4 Inadequate staffing leaves pharmacists with limited time for lunch and breaks, which are imperative for cognitive improvement. Grasha found that pharmacists who had adequate breaks make fewer mistakes.4
Dispensing time limits
In a survey by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, 83% of surveyed pharmacists reported that “performance metrics contributed to dispensing errors.”5 On average, a pharmacy dispenses 250 or more prescriptions per day. This means 31.25 prescriptions per 8-hour shift or 1.92 minutes to input, fill, and prepare each prescription. This doesn’t account for the time that pharmacists exhaust to check for medication drug allergies, interactions, and contraindications-- or answering phone calls from insurance companies, prescribers, or patients.