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Patient Safety Awareness Week: A Spotlight on the Role of the Pharmacist

More than 20 years since the publication of the Institute of Medicine’s landmark report, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, patient safety remains a major concern across the industry. Medical errors cost about $20 billion per year annually. And the cost is more than financial; errors can cause prolonged illness, permanent disability and death.

During Patient Safety Awareness Week, March 15 – 19, CompleteRx highlights the important role of the pharmacist in medication safety. Pharmacists are responsible for ensuring safe, effective, appropriate use of medications, as well as play a role in promoting a positive safety culture within the pharmacy setting.

“The pharmacist does so much more than simply dispense medications,” says Barbara Fingar, CompleteRx director of training and development. “As healthcare providers with expertise and focus on medications, we are critical partners in addressing complex patient needs and preventing patient safety issues, such as adverse drug events.”

A culture of safety augments technology advances

The growing use of technology is helping to avert errors at the various steps along the prescribing journey, from ordering through administration. Those technologies include computerized provider order entry, automated dispensing cabinets, barcode scanning, smart infusion pumps and gravimetric analysis. But a safety culture that recognizes “good catches” – the interception of medication-related problems and other potential safety issues before they reach the patient – is vital to improve processes and catch potential mistakes caused by human error.

Fingar describes a notable good catch: “A pediatric oncology pharmacist noticed that a patient had received chemotherapy and later returned to hospital and was admitted for nausea and vomiting from the treatment. When the patient came back for the next round of chemotherapy, the pharmacist noticed that the physician had ordered the same dose as before. The pharmacist contacted the physician to let him know about the patient’s reaction to the previous chemotherapy treatment, so they reduced the dosage for the next round of chemotherapy to make the patient more comfortable.”

A good catch can also be as simple as a pharmacist recommending an alternative, more cost-effective therapy than the one originally prescribed.

At CompleteRx, good catches like these are captured and shared via a monthly newsletter to hospital client sites. “It’s important to recognize the individual responsible for the intervention and encourage others to go the extra mile in making an intervention as well as documenting it,” notes Fingar, adding that historically pharmacists have viewed these interventions as routine parts of their job and haven’t always taken the extra step to report it. “It’s an effective way for others to learn some of the things that they should be looking out for in their hospitals.”

Fingar says good catches are also aggregated and presented to hospital administrators to educate them about the role of the pharmacist in preventing adverse events and improving patient safety.

Ongoing medication safety training and education

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians at CompleteRx maintain their professional competencies and state CPE requirements through annual training. One of the modules in CompleteRx’s learning management system is devoted to adverse drug reactions, medication errors and how to prevent errors.

One of the most important ways to prevent medication errors is to learn from errors that have occurred in professional practice across the industry and use the information to prevent similar errors internally. To that end, CompletRx monitors and shares new recommendations and guidelines from The Joint Commission, the Institute for Safe Medical Practice, the American Society of Health System Pharmacists and other industry organizations with its hospital sites.

As we celebrate Patient Safety Awareness Week, Fingar recognizes the crucial role vaccines play in supporting patient safety and public health. “Immunizations have been a major focus for the pharmacy profession and CompleteRx because they protect the public from serious diseases and help prevent illness, disability and even death,” she adds.

CompleteRx is proud to collaborate with our colleagues across hospital settings to prevent harm and make care safer across each patient’s journey.

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