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Pharmacy technicians make fewer errors than doctors when transcribing discharge medicines, pilot finds

An audit comparing error rates in transcribing of discharge medicines from inpatient charts found that doctors were more likely to make mistakes than pharmacy technicians.

Doctor with a hospital chart


Technicians were found to make mistakes in 3.8% of their transcriptions, compared with 18.7% in transcriptions by doctors

Pharmacy technicians are able to transcribe discharge medicines with fewer errors than doctors doing the same task, analysis of a pilot scheme published in the European Journal of Hospital Pharmacy (18 December 2019) has shown.

An audit to compare transcribing of discharge medicines from inpatient to discharge medication charts over five days on eight wards found that pharmacy technicians had an error rate of 3.8% compared with 18.7% for doctors.

At the hospital where the audit was carried out, pharmacy technicians were trained in transcribing medications from paper-based inpatient notes to an electronic discharge system, including raising clarification of any medication issues, such as length of course.

Over one week, the 12 doctors (who did not receive the same training) transcribed 77 discharge prescriptions that included 678 items. They made 127 errors, including 62 classed as ‘significant’ and 1 was ‘serious’.

During the same period, 8 pharmacy technicians transcribed 63 discharge prescriptions with 654 items. They made 25 errors, 16 of which were classed as ‘significant’ and none were ‘serious’.

Michael Lloyd, study author and clinical education lead pharmacist at St. Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Merseyside, said that more research was needed, but that it was possible that pharmacy technicians were approaching transcription with more focus.

“Equally, pharmacy technicians had been trained to communicate and clarify any transcribing queries with the ward pharmacist and doctor,” he said.

Liz Fidler, president of the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK, said: “Pharmacy technicians working in the hospital sector have been transcribing for many years.”

“Historically, this has been an extended role building upon their initial education and training; however, due to the demonstration within secondary care that this is a core role for which pharmacy technicians have the necessary knowledge and skills, this has now been included in the October 2017 Initial Education and Training standards.

“To see the evidence base behind the role is really encouraging and will support greater understanding of the contribution pharmacy technicians can make to clinical services.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2020.20207750

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