Pharmacists Believe Drive-Through Windows Contribute to Delays, Errors
By The College of Pharmacy, 2008
Consumers who pick up their prescription medications at a pharmacy drive-through window might be jeopardizing their own safety in the name of convenience.
A new study indicates that pharmacists who work at locations with drive-through windows believe the extra distractions associated with window service contribute to processing delays, reduced efficiency and even dispensing errors.
The surveyed pharmacists reported that the design and layout of their workplace has an impact on dispensing accuracy, especially the presence of drive-through window pick-up services. Results also indicate that automated dispensing systems in pharmacies are likely to reduce the potential for errors and enhance efficiency.
The study suggests pharmacy design should emphasize minimal workflow interruptions but it also offers a caution to consumers to check their prescription medications, especially those obtained from a pharmacy’s drive-through window, said Sheryl Szeinbach, the study’s lead author and a professor of pharmacy practice and administration at Ohio State University.
“Maybe we ought to stop and consider: ‘Am I likely to get the same level of service from the drive-through as I am actually interacting face-to-face with a health-care professional?’” Szeinbach said.
With the number of prescriptions dispensed annually in the United States nearing the 4 billion mark, Szeinbach said the public is best served by pharmacists with the fewest possible distractions. Even with stringent internal quality controls, pharmacists nationally make an estimated 5.7 errors per 10,000 prescriptions processed, according to the study, which translates to more than 2.2 million dispensing errors each year.
Responding pharmacists attributed about 80 percent of dispensing errors to cognitive problems that Szeinbach said could be associated with various disruptions that interfere with their work.
The survey results were published in a recent issue of the International Journal for Quality in Health Care.
“The drive-through window, overall, poses a huge problem with respect to causing dispensing errors, contributing to communication errors, delaying processing and forcing staff to take more steps,” Szeinbach said.
Szeinbach and colleagues surveyed 429 U.S. pharmacists working at pharmacies located within mass merchant retailers, traditional chain drugstores or independently owned shops. The questionnaire sought pharmacists’ perceptions of how their practice was affected by the pharmacy layout and design, the presence of a drive-through window and the availability of an automated dispensing system. Specifically, they were asked whether those factors had a positive or negative influence on errors in dispensing, communication between staff and pharmacists, prescription processing time, efficiency and physical mobility in the practice setting.
Participating pharmacists were asked to respond to questions using a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 indicating pharmacists strongly disagreed with suggestions that their practice was affected by these factors and 5 meaning they strongly agree.