Psychologist finds low-cost methods to prevent pharmacy mistakes

April 06, 2000

Pharmacy errors and medical mistakes have been making headlines recently, even prompting investigations by the federal government. UC psychologist Tony Grasha, meanwhile, is getting national attention for his work to reduce mistakes at the corner drug store.

Grasha is working with six corporations to conduct field tests of procedures and devices aimed at reducing the number of errors made when prescriptions are filled. Although automation and technology are often recommended to reduce human error, Grasha actually found there are several low-cost, low-tech solutions to the problem as well.

He presented his ideas and results in a talk titled "Seven Habits of Effective Pharmacists" to a national pharmaceutical meeting March 13 in Washington, D.C.

Grasha's results indicate that inexpensive changes such as larger labels, focused task lighting, and "self-monitoring" journals can significantly reduce the number of mistakes made in the final order.

"Normally, when pharmacists are doing their work, they don't get a lot of feedback, so keeping records as a means for getting feedback helps them set goals and and makes them more aware. They find that very useful."

Grasha also noted that improvements in accuracy didn't always require high technology and new computers. "People find they can till get the job done without a lot of high technology, so the things we're looking at are going to be extremely relevant to the industry over the next decade."

That's important, because many prescriptions are filled at small, community drug stores. Not every prescription comes from a national chain, and not every drug store can afford high-powered computers.

The innovations were tested first in a simulated pharmacy on the UC campus, funded by a grant from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

The most promising prototypes, including larger labels and magnification devices, then moved into field testing. Significantly, Grasha found that the results didn't vary much from the simulation environment to real-life.

"The pattern of mistakes we're getting and the percentage of mistakes we get seem to match nicely with what we're getting in a real pharmacy. The lab has been very successful in mimicking what happens in a real pharmacy."

Grasha's long-term goal is to develop a pharmacy simulator where working pharmacists could come and work the same way airline pilots use flight simulators.

University of Cincinnati

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