Aug 15 2019

World Pharmacists Day Shines Light on Medication Safety

September 25 has been designated “World Pharmacists Day 2019” by the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP).  And while the day will certainly allow for much-deserved reflection on the many important services provided by pharmacists, FIP organizers have announced that “safe and effective medicines for all” will be the key theme of the day.

Specifically, the day’s observances will take into account the many ways in which pharmacists around the world ensure patient safety by reducing medication errors and improving medication usage.  In a statement announcing the 2019 commemoration, Dominique Jordan, president of the Netherlands-based FIP explained:  “Studies show that a significant number of patients are harmed during health care, resulting in permanent injury, increased length of stay in healthcare facilities, or even death.  Medication errors are a contributing factor to this, and pharmacists have a vital role in curtailing this global health challenge.”

In the United States, a 2019 report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services noted:  “Adverse drug events are one of the most common preventable adverse events in all settings of care, mostly because of the widespread use of prescription and nonprescription medications.”  The report further noted that each year medication mistakes account for nearly 700,000 emergency department visits and 100,000 hospitalizations.

Separate analysis by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine determined “medical error” to be the third leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for more than 250,000 fatalities each year.

Given the enormity of the medication safety issue, it’s appropriate – and timely – to focus this year’s event on the daily efforts undertaken by the world’s pharmacists to help prevent medication mistakes.  Afterall, there are no international boundaries when it comes to addressing improper use of medication, dispensing errors and other medication-related mistakes.

Some of the more notable approaches to promote medication safety within today’s pharmacies include:

    • Technology Management Systems.  Technology has most definitely kept pace with the changing – and growing – needs of today’s pharmacies.  A comprehensive system will essentially serve as the front line in ensuring medication safety by helping manage daily refill queues, accurate dispensing, proper labeling and seamless management of patient records.  This high level of automation improves workflow efficiency, which means busy pharmacy staff will have more time to interact with patients.

    • Automatic Reminders.  A pharmacy can automatically generate outbound text messages, emails and phone calls, to remind patients about renewals and pickups.  These simple messages can have a tremendous impact in reminding patients that a prescription is about to run out, thereby helping to avoid a missed dosage, or even worse, a patient simply deciding to forego renewing a prescription. 
    • Electronic Prescriptions:  According to information provided by Surescripts, as of 2018 more than 85 percent of all prescriptions are sent electronically.  Electronic prescriptions help address the notorious problem of physicians with hard-to-decipher handwriting, and can pinpoint precisely which drug has been prescribed.  This is especially helpful in instances where several drugs have similar names – Creebyx, Celexa, Celebrex – but are used to treat vastly different conditions.

    • Conflicting Medications Alerts.  A pharmacist who accesses a patient’s history will be able to quickly determine if any prescribed medications conflict with each other, and put the patient at risk for serious side effects or adverse interactions.  Depending on the severity of the medication conflict, a pharmacist can either contact a prescribing physician to ask for an alternative, or advise the patient about the risk of side effects. 

    • Patient-friendly Packaging.  Another benefit of technology is the ability to provide patients with detailed information about their medications, including easy-to-read dosage instructions and photos of each medication. 
    • Pharmacist-Patient Interactions.  While each of these tools and “best practices” are undoubtedly helpful in preventing medication mistakes, nothing is as effective as the communication that takes place between pharmacists and their patients.  Pharmacists continue to lead the list of “most trusted professions,” and are held in high regard by patients who rely on their guidance and expertise.

    For all these reasons, it is fitting that we set aside September 25 as World Pharmacists Day.  And as we give special recognition to the importance of medication safety, we should also take time to express gratitude to the global workforce of more than four million pharmacists – the men and women who dedicate themselves to patient health and wellbeing.