Preventing Prescription Errors: A Pharmacy Technician Role
When you go to a pharmacy to pick up your prescription, your expectation is that you’re getting the right medication and being told any important information that you need to know before taking it. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Mistakes do happen, but in the pharmaceutical industry those mistakes could cost someone their health, and potentially their life.
According to one 2016 study, “It is believed that preventable medication errors impact more than 7 million patients and cost almost $21 billion annually across all care settings.” It’s the responsibility of all pharmacy workers to report any issues that are going on. Being mindful and speaking up if things aren’t working is the best way to fix any errors before something bad happens.
A pharmacy technician’s role is to help process prescriptions from start to finish. They input customer information, mix and count medications, print labels, and work at the point of sale when customers come to pick up their prescriptions. While a pharmacist needs to do the final check of prescriptions first, pharmacy technicians are expected to work accurately to avoid errors.
When something goes wrong it can mean big consequences for a supervising pharmacist. They can lose their license and even be criminally charged for mistakes that happen on their watch. The problem with this is that in some cases, punishment leads to fear and cover-ups happen over honest mistakes. It’s important that errors in pharmacy operations are reported and analyzed so they don’t happen again.
Pharmacy technicians are often responsible for taking prescriptions and entering important information into the system. One tip for reducing mistakes at this stage is to create a checklist of information to review with each customer. This might include verifying their date of birth and confirming information about any potential allergies, other medications they are on, and their medical condition.
It’s important to gather this information early on and relay anything new to the pharmacist so customers receive the best possible care.
Entering Prescriptions into the System
One issue with pharmacy technicians being trained on-the-job is that in some cases, you can have new pharmacy technicians working with relatively little experience. As a pharmacy technician, it’s important to be familiar with medical terminology and drug names. Not knowing these things can result in giving a customer the wrong drug because of an improperly read prescription.
Another way to reduce errors at this stage is by relaying all alerts from the computer system to the pharmacist. Taking shortcuts can lead to important information being missed. Also, if you ignore problems with the system they won’t get fixed.
Filling and Labeling Prescriptions
It’s essential to always read labels and fill prescriptions carefully. Once you get to know the pharmacy well you still need to resist going on autopilot when doing your work. When you’re feeling distracted or overworked, it’s important to be able to re-center and focus.
A couple of ways to prevent errors when preparing prescriptions is by separating drugs with similar labels and packaging that could be easily mixed up if placed close together. Some pharmacies also use verification technology (like barcodes and scanned images of pill bottles) to double-check their work.
One other potential issue that should be avoided is substituting drugs without consulting the prescribing doctor, like filling a prescription with a generic brand if the pharmacy is out of a specific medication. Pharmacy technicians must also pay close attention to their inventory to avoid dispensing expired drugs.
Dispensing Prescriptions at the Point of Sale
Even after the prescription has been taken, information entered, and the prescription prepared and checked by a pharmacist, mistakes can still happen!
To avoid making preventable errors at the point of sale, always use second identifier before dispensing a prescription. This means asking the customer not only for their full name but also their address or date of birth. A second identifier helps avoid issues like giving a prescription to the wrong patient because two of them happen to have the same last name.
Another good practice is to review each medication with customers and come up with a system for referring certain patients to the pharmacist for consultation, like with new customers, big prescription changes, and certain medications. This will make sure that customers get all the information they need to take their medications safely and correctly.
Keep in mind that most pharmacy technician errors happen for several reasons, including when the pharmacy is busy. Pharmacy technicians may also be distracted or overworked. In these cases, many potential errors are caught by pharmacists when they do their final check, but some can slip through the cracks. Proper communication and awareness are key to preventing dangerous mistakes.
Pharmacies can better prepare themselves by making it a ritual to discuss internal errors that occur in their own pharmacies and by looking at case studies to see what is happening in other pharmacies. Pharmacies can help pharmacy technicians work safer by encouraging them to continuously stay on top of new developments in the industry and by sharing information about new drugs on the market.