Dispensing Errors and the Mental Workload of Pharmacists – What is on Your Mind?

Last month I wrote about the damaging impact of dispensing errors. Since then I have read about some interesting research which is being undertaken at Bath University in the United Kingdom. The research aims to look at the link between the mental workload of pharmacists and dispensing errors. The research is based on the premise that as pharmacists dispense an increasing range of medications and take on new and expanded roles, as well as working in an increasingly pressured and competitive environment we may be more susceptible to dispensing errors.

pharmacistbrainA brief report about the research is found at http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/2012/02/27/pharmacists-workload/. In addition more information about the project is available at http://errorgirl.com/ which has updates on the study. One aspect of the study is to look at the mental workload of pharmacists and to encourage pharmacists to identify what is on their mind. This was done through a “blank brain competition” where participants filled in a picture of a brain with all the various things they might be thinking about. Some of the results are very interesting and I encourage you to take time to read more about the project at http://errorgirl.com/.

I encourage each reader to spend time undertaking some self-reflection. What are the many things on your mind and how are they impacting on your ability to concentrate on the task at hand? Often we are required to undertake tasks requiring significant concentration in a busy noisy environment. In addition our own brains are very busy and our thoughts can be “noisy” when we are trying to focus. Being aware of the distractions that come from both outside us and from within us is the first step. Trying to minimise these distractions is essential if we want to reduce the risk of a dispensing error. Technology such as scanners, barcode readers and automated dispensing can assist us greatly in minimising errors but having our mind focussed on the task at hand is also essential.

Your indemnity insurance provider can provide further advice on minimising the risk of dispensing errors. Risk minimisation brings benefit to the public we serve and to each one of us as pharmacists. Pharmacists involved in a dispensing error should always ring their indemnity insurance provider. For additional support in relation to dispensing errors pharmacists are invited to ring PSS on 1300 244 910to speak anonymously to a colleague.

Pharmacists Support Service – looking after the health and well-being of pharmacists

The Pharmacists Support Services(PSS) offers free telephone support to Australian pharmacists, interns and students. We are not a treatment service but rather provide a listening ear and support from a pharmacist colleague. All calls to the service can be anonymous. The trained pharmacist volunteers who take the calls provide a listening ear and are able to assist callers to take the next step in addressing their issues. The service is available on 1300 244 910 between 8.00 am and 11.00 pm every day of the year. More information and some resources are available from the PSS website at http://www.supportforpharmacists.org.au.

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