Technology can streamline—and make safer—processes like medication reconciliation.
What’s every pharmacist’s worst nightmare? A prescription error that is responsible for a patient’s harm or death. Steve Moore, PharmD, owner of Condo Pharmacy in Plattsburgh, New York, said that although no one wants to cause harm, each person can do only so much, as human error is inevitable in many aspects of life. That’s why Moore is 100% on board with using technology to ensure prescription errors don’t happen.
“Technology solutions are an important part of our workfl ow process to ensure that the right medication gets to the right patient at the right time,” Moore said. “There are so many options—software, hardware, or a combination. I’d encourage every pharmacist to look at their pain points and bottlenecks to determine where their needs are.”
Lindsay Dymowski, president of Centennial Pharmacy Services, noted that some pharmacists have been slow to accept technology, instead being “forced” to utilize technology after it’s put in place by their employers. “Pharmacists are happy to use auto-populating algorithms, something that on the surface seems like a time-saving hack,” Dymowski said. “In reality, it’s a safety feature to have software choose the correct patient, verify the drug, and calculate the day supply while a pharmacist approves that the software is correct.”
Still, pharmacists may be hesitant to use dispensing technology like bottle or pouch packaging robots, convinced that there are National Drug Code or pill counting errors, even though it has been demonstrated that automated technologies are more accurate than a human.1 “There are so many algorithms built into pharmacy management systems and pharmacy-dispensing technology that make prescription errors extremely preventable,” Dymowski said.
Today’s Technology Tools
Technology can be used to automate the medication reconciliation process, reducing the risk of errors and ensuring that the patient is prescribed all the correct medications. Automated dispensing systems dispense medication using a computer-controlled process, reducing the risk of errors due to incorrect dosing or mislabeling. Automated dispensing systems can also help prevent theft and diversion of medications.
More pharmacists are also starting to utilize barcode scanning technology to verify the identity and dosage of medications administered to patients. In hospital settings, providers can scan a barcode on the medication and on the patient’s wristband, ensuring that the correct medication is being given to the correct patient.
At his pharmacy, Moore takes advantage of electronic prescriptions, workfl ow technology such as scanners and barcode readers, and counting devices. “We installed workflow technology more than a decade ago and I wouldn’t run a pharmacy without it,” he said.
John Ahler, PharmD, uses locking prescription vials in his medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program at Lower Lights Christian Health Center in Columbus, Ohio. “This MAT program dispenses medication to nearly 250 patients in locking prescription vials, which require a 4-digit code to open,” he said. “Patients are required to bring the vial back each time, increasing [adherence] among patients and overall security from things like accidental ingestion, misuse, and pilfering.”
Dispensing medication in these locking vials has improved the overall e! - cacy of the MAT program, according to Ahler; thus far, 80% of patients in the program have reported that their medications are more secure and pharmacists have reported no impact on normal workflow.
“For patients in MAT, keeping medication safe when they’re traveling with it or at home is important to reduce the risk of pilfering or accidental ingestion,” Ahler said. “The potential consequences of drug diversion are serious.”
A Technological Evolution
Technology focused on reducing prescription errors has evolved for the better over the years, leading to more reliable hardware and more cost-effective options. “We’re willing to be early adopters of anything that will make our lives easier or increase patient safety,” Moore said.
Not utilizing technology to its fullest ability only hinders pharmacists. Anytime you can engage with technology that makes your pharmacy a safer place for patients to receive their medication from is the time to use it. “Pharmacies are hectic environments; there are phone calls, colleagues talking, patients sometimes yelling over counters, drivethrough windows beeping, corporate expectations hovering over employee shoulders....Utilizing and trusting the technology gives pharmacists the ability to trust that what they are doing is correct,” Dymowski said. “Not only does it provide support for pharmacists clinical expertise, but it also protects the decisions that they make throughout the day.”
1. Davenport T, Kalakota R. The potential for artificial intelligence in healthcare. Future Healthc J. 2019;6(2):94-98. Doi: 10.7861/futurehosp.6-2-94. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6616181/