what can pharmacies do to prevent rx errors

Our blog has devoted considerable time to discussing medication errors, including steps that patients can take to protect themselves from being victimized. In keeping with this theme, our blog will now examine some of the more common ways in which pharmacy staff commit prescription errors and the steps that many pharmacies are now taking to help combat them.

What’s the earliest possible point at which a medication mistake can occur?

While many doctor’s offices have made the transition to sending prescriptions electronically, many still utilize the traditional methods of handwritten prescriptions or calling in a prescription over the phone.

Here, there is a real risk of the technician or pharmacist either misunderstanding the instructions issued over the telephone or misreading the handwriting of the physician, two scenarios that can result in the patient receiving the wrong drug.

In order to prevent these types of medication errors from occurring, many pharmacies are now attempting to move almost exclusively to all electronic prescriptions, and/or requesting that physicians not only write more clearly, but avoid using abbreviations or arcane medical shorthand.

What’s the first place that a medication mistake can occur post drop-off?

Once the prescription is received, the pharmacy tech will likely be required to manually input some information in the computer system, including the patient’s personal information and/or the directions concerning the drug (name, dosage, quantity, schedule, etc.). Here, a simple typo can result in everything from the patient getting the wrong drug to the wrong dosage.

In order to rectify this problem, many pharmacies have internal software designed to alert technicians when the drug entered does not fit for the patient or their given condition, or when the drug entered might result in a dangerous complication.

Still others have internal software whereby a popup dialog box alerts the technician that the drug entered is often confused with another drug with a similar sounding name, and asks them to verify — via entering their initials in the dialog box — that this mistake has not occurred here.

Are there additional safeguards to protect against transcription errors by techs?

In general, prescriptions are scanned into the system such that a pharmacist should theoretically be able to double check that the prescription data entered into the computer is indeed accurate. However, this doesn’t always happen and the typo can go unnoticed.

In order to address this issue, many pharmacies now have policies dictating that all prescriptions must be scanned into the system, such that the information entered by the tech can be independently verified for accuracy by the pharmacist.

To be continued …

Those victimized by prescription errors do have options if they suffer serious pain and suffering, or lose a loved one. An experienced legal professional can help them explore these options and plan an effective course of legal action.

Source: USA Today, “A prescription’s path through a pharmacy,” Kevin McCoy and Erik Brady, Accessed Nov. 3, 2014

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