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    Pharmacist error rate rises as workload climbs

    Hospital pharmacists are aware that they have too many orders to fill on a daily basis – in addition to numerous other job functions, including working with insurers and counseling patients. And now, a new study verifies that the more orders pharmacists fill, the more likely it is for errors to occur.

    Are VA workloads, lack of standards causing pharmacist errors?

    Authored by pharmacists with Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston and the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, the study was published in the Sept 1 issue of American Journal of Health-Systems Pharmacy.

    The researchers reviewed inpatient and outpatient medication errors that were reported between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, at a large tertiary care medical center in Houston, Texas. The study included more than 1.9 million medication orders that were handled by 50 pharmacists. During the one-year time period, 92 medication error events had occurred during order verification.

    The researchers found that number of medication errors increased with the number of orders verified per pharmacist per shift. “The verification of over 400 orders per shift per pharmacist was associated with the highest risk of errors,” the researchers wrote. The overall error rate was 4.87 errors per 100,000 orders verified.

    Of the 50 pharmacists included in the study, 31 committed at least one medication error throughout the year in question. Pharmacists who worked at the medical center for a longer period of time generally had a lower error rate. “There was also a lower error rate seen for pharmacists who had a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, compared with those who had a Bachelor of Science degree; however, those results were not statistically signficiant,” the researchers wrote.

    Christine Blank
    Contributing Editor Christine Blank is a freelance writer based in Florida.

    5 Comments

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    • Anonymous
      And this headline is news???? All practicing pharmacists that are on the frontlines already know this fact!!! CEO's of for-profit and NON-profit organizations are all the same-->increase the bottom dollar to line their pockets. When are we all going to stand up for our licenses, no matter which kind we have?? Increased errors have nothing to do with what type of license we have, either, as the article states it is "statistically insignificant". I am a R.Ph. who has had to clinically train a PharmD. Experience matters when making judgmental decisions. Your article also mentions that pharmacists with longevity had fewer errors. Yet, there are many organizations that age discriminate. Some disguise their discharge of an employee with "unsatisfactory performance", when their performance is based on meeting the numbers game instigated by management. Older employees typically make more money, therefore employers are willing to get rid of the older employee. The company can then take the risk of hiring an inexperienced PharmD at a lower rate of pay. The older employee is expected to train the inexperienced PharmD and correct the PharmD's mistakes with their knowledge. Experience and methodical work practices are what matters when dispensing medications to patients. Wait until one of these CEO's family members, or themselves, are injured by an overworked pharmacist, and then we will see what happens!! Probably nothing, as numerous attempts at getting them to recognize the increased workload means the need for additional staff has always fallen on deaf ears.
    • AnthonyGesualdo
      A person can spin the reason why errors occur , when actually it's a simple fix. A greater workload should be accompanied by more help. It doesn't matter what your degree is but whether you can do every task presented in addition to filling a prescription. We all know the real reason there is no extra help for the pharmacist, it's simple. Any additional help will take away from the bottom line. It's business and pharmacists are hard working overburdened individuals who will get the job done. We take all the chances , break our backs mentally and physically so people can ask us to do more, because they know we will. The people doing all the studies have no clue nor can they ever do what we do.
    • MicheleNelson
      You said it, fellow rph!
    • Anonymous
      “There was also a lower error rate seen for pharmacists who had a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, compared with those who had a Bachelor of Science degree; however, those results were not statistically significant.” Shouldn't that read, "there was no difference between the error rate of pharmacists who had Doctor of Pharmacy degrees when compared with those who had Bachelor of Science degrees?" If the observed difference was not statistically significant then from a scientific perspective there was no difference. Period.
    • BobKatz
      In my lecture on how not to be the victim of a medication error consumers make a very big mistake but not doing a simple thing. They go to the pickup counter, the cashier gets the bag and verifies the name and address. The customer pays and walks out of the pharmacy. The consumer rarely checks before leaving the pharmacy that the containers in the bag the label matches the receipt on the outside of the bag. This simple step would significantly reduce medication errors.