It’s a running joke that doctors have sloppy handwriting. Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are among those professionals who have adapted to physician penmanship. However there are times when handwritten ‘scripts’ are just too puzzling for pharmacy staff to decipher. (For fun, check out Pharmacy Times’ “Can You Read These Rxs?” to get a taste!)
Eye-Opening Prescriptions Statistics
“Doctors’ sloppy handwriting kills more than 7,000 people annually,” reported Jeremy Caplan in a January 2007 Time magazine article. The chilling number came from a study from over seven years ago, and so it’s expected, or hoped, there have been improvements within the pharmaceutical industry. Undoubtedly the rise in e-prescribing has helped reduce this particular error.
More recently, however, a 2010 Pharmacy Times article by Rama P. Nair, RPh, et al. (“10 Strategies for Minimizing Dispensing Errors”) stated, “Medication errors are a leading cause of mortality in the United States. Dispensing errors account for ~21% of all medication errors.” The authors added that on average, a pharmacy filling 250 prescriptions per day will make four prescription errors.
What Should Pharmacy Technicians Do?
While the Pharmacy Times article (cited above) explained that misreading illegible transcriptions plays a role in dispensing errors, a major factor is mistakes made during transcription (such as inaccurately entering patient information). This means physicians’ messy handwriting is not solely to blame—the onus is on everyone involved, from the prescribers and pharmacy staff to patients and their caregivers.
Since pharmacy technicians roles include receive prescriptions and entering them into the database, they play an important role in ensuring the proper medication (along with strength, dosage, etc.) is delivered to the right patients.
Specifically whenever a handwritten prescription is at all unclear, the prescriber should be contacted to ensure accuracy and the clarified details should be recorded right away.
Consider this case study, presented by Ian Stewart, R.Ph.(Pharmacy Connection, July/August 2010) who receives error reports (in confidence) from pharmacy professionals:
“…The technician could not determine the prescriber’s intent and therefore consulted with the pharmacist. The pharmacist considered the directions for use and the ophthalmic drops with which he was familiar and determined that the drug being prescribed was Vigamox®. However, the technician felt uncertain of the pharmacists’ interpretation of the prescription. She therefore suggested that the prescriber be contacted to confirm his intention. The pharmacist…agreed to contact the prescriber for clarification. Upon contacting the prescriber, he confirmed that the prescription was written for Lotemax®.”
(It should be noted that Vigamox is an antibiotic, whereas Lotemax is an anti-inflammatory.)
As a pharmacy technician, check with your pharmacist or supervisor to see what precautionary protocols they already have in place; and follow the age old adage: better safe than sorry!