medication safety in pharmacy

Safeguarding Lives: Navigating Medication Safety in an Evolving Healthcare Landscape

Aabha Daryapurkar

Aabha Daryapurkar

Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate, Ohio State University College of Pharmacy
Pharmacy Solutions Intern, VPL

Medication Safety is a Daily Commitment for Pharmacists

When you think about daily safety, what comes to mind?

Some might say it’s wearing a seatbelt when driving or looking both ways before crossing the street. Others may mention locking their front door or walking in well-lit areas at night.

As pharmacists, we focus on our own type of safety every day: medication safety to keep our patients safe when they take medication for any indication.

So, what exactly is medication safety?

Medication safety in pharmacy is often defined by the “5 Rs”:

  • Right patient
  • Right medication
  • Right dose
  • Right route
  • Right time

In our role as clinicians, we make sure these 5 Rs are met through a thorough workflow that includes double-checking every step for each medication we dispense.

Enhancing Safety by Preventing Mistakes

Despite our careful workflow, mistakes with medications can still happen, and they can harm patients.

Think of the medication process as having two main parts:

  1. Medication dispensing: From when the pharmacy receives the medication until it’s checked.
  2. Medication distribution: From the pharmacist’s check to when the patient takes the medication.

Surprisingly, medication distribution errors are 5 times more likely than dispensing errors, according to the URAC Specialty Pharmacy Performance Management Aggregate Report.

You may think that this statistic doesn’t make sense. What really could go wrong during the distribution process?

Think about it this way: Over time, many of our patients have begun to transition to healthcare from home – from virtual appointments with their primary care providers to getting their medications delivered right to their doorstep. Many things can go wrong between the pharmacist’s check and the patient taking the medication, especially when patients aren’t picking up the medication in person.

Sometimes, convenience comes at a cost. So, what can we do to make sure the right patient gets the right medication at the right time?

A Different Approach

In the past, medication errors were followed by repercussions, and accompanied by education (in the form of training) to prevent these errors from repeating.

However, this approach didn’t address the root causes of errors or flawed processes. Plus, it discouraged reporting for fear of punishment, letting many errors go unnoticed.

The ISMP introduced a non-punitive national error reporting system, which resulted in a surge in error reporting. Today, this system helps identify the causes of errors and prevent future mistakes.

Since then, many healthcare systems and pharmacy organizations have adopted non-punitive error reporting. This marks a new era of medication safety, combining technology, processes, education, and fail-safes.

Read more about the ISMP Error Reporting System here.

The Perfect Equation

Medication safety in pharmacy can be compared to a formula:
Medication Safety = (Technology + Processes) + (Education + Fail-Safes)

Technology and processes go hand in hand, as do education and fail-safes. Together, they create a solid foundation for medication safety in pharmacy.

Technology can streamline workflow, but it must work with the right processes to avoid masking errors. Education is essential but becomes more effective when combined with fail-safes. Education alone can’t account for human errors like distractions or forgetfulness.

When implementing fail-safes, assume that if a mistake can happen, it will.

VPL TrajectRx: Your Medication Safety Partner

In the intricate web of medication safety, pharmacists stand as guardians of the 5 Rs, navigating the pharmacy workflow to ensure the right patient receives the right medication at the right time.

Patients often witness just the surface of this process, unaware of the meticulous checks and balances that transpire behind the scenes. The journey from pharmacist to patient is rife with potential pitfalls.

However, the solution isn’t just about individuals but the synergy of technology, processes, education, and fail-safes.

TrajectRx, VPL’s medication shipping solution, exemplifies this approach. Through its integrated technology and fail-safe mechanisms, TrajectRx ensures patients receive the correct medication on time. It represents pharmacists’ unwavering commitment to patient safety.

Read more about TrajectRx here.