Technology: One key to blocking bloopers

A panel of six pharmacists give their opinions in a roundtable on how technology can curb and also promote drug errors.

One recommendation of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on drug errors calls for electronic prescribing by the year 2010. How realistic is this goal?

Fong: We've embraced e-prescribing at Safeway. I think every day more and more docs are embracing e-prescribing. I think the next piece of this is we're going to have a lot more of what we call electronic dialoguing going on between physicians and pharmacy.

Unfortunately, there are still ways to bypass these systems. And, as I just mentioned, electronic prescriptions sometimes lead to errors. One particular vendor actually templates the patient instructions for drugs and has free-text fields where doctors can enter additional instructions, and, sometimes, they're in conflict with one another. So there are lots of problems with electronics. But, by and large, I think technologies are leading to great improvements in community practice.

I also think technology gives us the opportunity to do some things we have never been able to do in the past. An example is centralizing dispensing operations for refills, not just among large chains, but I could even foresee some enterprising individuals setting up a business where they contract with independent pharmacies to handle this.

We had commented about scanning and having a visual about the product, so that if you're filling a prescription, the system comes up with either a green screen or a red screen that pretty much stops you on the spot. So for pharmacists who might not be as attentive, the colors will make it very clear to them they screwed up. We're getting a lot smarter on understanding the importance of putting in good systems to ensure that we are avoiding errors.