Do you know how long it takes to become a pharmacist? A minimum of six years (and most people take eight). Of course, that’s all without considering any special field training in a particular area of expertise as required with oncological, pediatric, or psychiatric pharmacy.
Bottom line? It takes quite a while.
Yet despite all that training, pharmacy errors still happen. Let’s look at the most common reasons why.
Staffing and Scheduling Problems
Issues in staffing and scheduling can cause problems in any work environment. This is especially dangerous when your workplace is a pharmacy.
An Understaffed Pharmacy
Especially in chain drug stores, the actual pharmacists have very little say in scheduling and the number of staff on duty. If a tech decides to ditch work, they are likely to be left scrambling. When there’s a perpetual issue with understaffing, the likelihood of error increases even more.
Understaffing Leads to Exhausted Employees
Those who do show up to a short-handed staff on a regular basis are often “rewarded” with an offer to take on extra hours. This is great when reliable employees want to take them, but what happens when it becomes required? Anyone in that situation is bound to reach a point of exhaustion.
Distributing Medication Becomes a High-Pressure Situation
Despite being tired, most people in a line of work that requires public service have a sense of duty and urgency about helping their clients – even more when there’s a line out the door. Keeping up with prescribed medication can quickly become a high-pressure situation with this combination of factors, leading to mistakes being made.
Simple Pharmacist (Human) Error
Even at the best of times in a pharmacy, there’s still the ever-present element of human error. The difference is, in a pharmaceutical environment, errors can prove dangerous – or even fatal.
Misreading Handwriting and Similar Drug Names
This is sort of a running joke since before anyone can remember – doctors with messy writing. Electronic coding has mitigated much of this risk, but sometimes a handwritten prescription is still presented. There are also a ton of drug names that are very similar.
Amicar or Omacor? Enjuvia or Januvia? Guanfacine or Guaifenesin? Would you know which is which if it was scribbled on a script?
Grabbing the Wrong Medication of the Shelf
Even when the script (or code) is clear, depending on the organization, it might be a simple mistake to grab the next medication over – especially when an understaffed, overtired pharmacist or tech is fulfilling a prescription.
Human Issues Can Equate to Human Errors, Too
Having a spat with a loved one or taking care of an under-the-weather spouse or child all night can cloud the mind of anyone – including pharmacists and their staff members. It can be hard for anyone under these circumstances to perform perfectly all the time.
Whereas workplace issues can leave a pharmacy or drug store holding the bag for major errors, when specific mistakes are made under these sorts of circumstances, assigning responsibility gets a bit tricky.
Problems with Patient Communication
Texas pharmacies have a duty to offer to counsel you when you pick up a dispensed medication. You have the right to accept and ask questions regarding the uses and side effects of whatever drug you will be taking – or decline.
A number of safety organizations believe this counseling should be required instead of optional. It would help to significantly reduce both pharmacy errors and those accidents which may arise due to miscommunication.
It could serve as a final filter should the incorrect medication be dispensed. Additionally, it is a final opportunity for a patient to remember to share any pertinent information that may prevent negative interactions with the current prescription.
Ultimately there is a myriad of safety measures in place that prevents pharmacy errors all across the country every single day. Still, mistakes happen. You can do your part by checking – and double-checking – with your pharmacy that you’ve got the right prescription.
About the Author:
Since she started practicing law in Texas in 2004, Sharon Fulgham has been named a Rising Star by SuperLawyers and a Top Attorney by Fort Worth Magazine multiple times. Additionally, she has worked with some of the best attorneys in the state, and served as a partner at the biggest law firm in Fort Worth. Sharon has successfully handled cases at both the state and federal level, and always provides her clients with legal services that are personalized to fit their needs. Outside of work, the most important things in Sharon’s life are her faith, her family (husband Brandon and three children), and serving her community.