Minnesota Law May Help Prevent Pharmacy Errors

May 30, 2017

Law curbs pharmacist hours to prevent errors due to fatigue.

While many pharmacy groups acknowledge that errors at retail pharmacies are increasing, a new Minnesota law may help reduce the number of such errors in that state that are caused by pharmacist fatigue. The law requires that pharmacists and pharmacy techs not work more than 12 hours and have reasonable time for breaks.

“We are concerned that pharmacies are being asked to do more work and that the prescription volumes are increasing. Even the best of pharmacists, if you put them in the environment where there are hundreds of prescriptions to fill … and they are working twelve hours without a break, [mistakes can occur],” said Cody Wiberg, PharmD, Executive Director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy (MBP).

Minnesota pharmacists came under fire after a Fox 9 (KMSP-TV) report found that errors at Minnesota pharmacies are on the rise. The report referred to a case in which a customer suffered a stroke after a pharmacy gave the customer the wrong prescription.

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The report also said that pharmacy errors reported to MBP have increased from under 100 per year a decade ago, to 250 per year now. Wiberg confirmed the numbers to Drug Topics, but doesn’t know the reason behind the increase.

However, the rule that the Pharmacy Board put forth, which was recently passed by the Minnesota legislature and goes into effect July 1, should help curtail some errors, according to Wiberg.

The new law says that no pharmacy can require a pharmacist, pharmacy tech, or intern to work more than 12 hours per day. And, if they work more than six hours, they are entitled to a 30-minute, uninterrupted break. In addition, pharmacy personnel are allowed “reasonable time” to use the restroom every four hours.

“We worked with NACDS and reached some compromise on the language of the rule,” Wiberg said. If a previous version of the law had been passed, Minnesota pharmacies would have had to close down while the pharmacist took a break. Now, Minnesota pharmacies can stay open while the pharmacist is on break, but cannot dispense prescriptions while the pharmacist is absent.

“The Board arrived at a reasonable approach in its final work rule, and we appreciated the opportunity to provide context throughout their process. In the end, everyone agrees that the best policies should be consistent with a pharmacist’s ability to meet the needs of patients and put safety first,” NACDS and the Minnesota Retailers Association (MRA) said in a statement provided to Fox 9 and Drug Topics.

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The two groups also said they support voluntary reporting of medical and prescription errors in a “non-punitive forum, with a focus on strategies and education to help identify an error’s root cause.”

“This approach, common among health-care professions, emphasizes correcting and preventing future errors,” they said.

NACDS and MRA also noted the programs and technologies that are helping pharmacies reduce errors. In addition to increased staff training, “scanning technology is used in some instances to verify that the medication that has been prescribed matches the medication actually being dispensed,” the statement said. “Also, the use of electronic prescribing is on the rise. E-prescribing can reduce the risk of errors from prescribers’ handwriting and from incorrectly entering prescription information.”