March 13-19 is Patient Safety Awareness Week. This is an excellent time to share safety information with your customers, and to make sure they are aware of their responsibility in maintaining and promoting their own safety. The website has various tools and promotional materials that can be used for promoting the week, but it might be more beneficial to create your own materials that are specific to patient safety in a pharmacy setting.
Pharmacy Health Literacy
The phrase pharmacy health literacy describes the degree to which patients are able to understand the information they receive from their pharmacy and about their medications. Studies have shown that less than 20% of adults have a pharmacy health literacy level adequate to fully understanding the information presented on a prescription label.
What this means in practical terms for patients is they are less likely to notice when there has been an error in the dispensation of their medications. They are also more likely to not understand the instructions for taking their medication, and may not be aware of side effects or potential drug interactions.
Pharmacists are often the most accessible healthcare provider a patient sees, and they are almost certainly the provider the patient spends the most time with. Because of this, pharmacists have the unique opportunity to play an immediate, lasting, and important role in promoting patient safety.
What Can You Do?
There are several things that can be immediately helpful, including routinely checking to make sure patients haven’t started new medications or supplements, providing simplified instructions, asking patients to reiterate the instructions, and making sure that all pharmacy staff are taking the time to ensure each patient fully understands their medication.
Consider providing a card for patients that tells them what they can do while at the pharmacy to help ensure they have the information they need before they leave with their medication. Information and questions patients should be encouraged to share include;
- What does this medication do?
- What should this medication look like?
- How should I take this medication?
- What side effects are common with this medication?
- Tell the pharmacist about new medications.
- Tell the pharmacist about new health conditions.
- Tell the pharmacist about new vitamins or supplements.
Far too often, patients filling a prescription are treated like customers in a checkout line. The person at the register is eager to get them through the line, and they fail to take into consideration the life saving information they are supposed to be communicating may be lost in the hustle. Be sure that the clerks are not simply hurrying patients out of the line, but are taking the time to explain medications and to follow up to make sure those explanations were understood.