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Walgreens Own Numbers Show Workloads Exceed Patient Safety Threshold

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Tthe National Pharmacists Association released a report that may explain why so many prescription errors are occurring. The title of the report: Pharmacists routinely pushed beyond what they consider safe for patients. The risk of error rises along with the number of prescriptions filled per hour.

This summer the National Pharmacists Association released a report that may explain why so many prescription errors are occurring. The title of the report summarizes the findings: Pharmacists routinely pushed beyond what they consider safe for patients.

You have to applaud the guts of a professional association that publicizes unsafe practices by one of the major employers of its members. The details revealed in the report are so damning that I have reprinted almost the entire news story below. It is a shocking read.

NAPERVILLE, Ill — Walgreen Co.’s own numbers show that its pharmacies routinely go beyond the widely accepted safety threshold for numbers of prescription filled per hour, according to documents released today by the National Pharmacists Association.

Leading pharmacy researchers have placed the safe average workload at 20 prescriptions filled an hour by pharmacists, documenting that anything beyond that drastically increases the risk for errors.

According to Walgreens’ own numbers from monthly store productivity reports, 58 Walgreens pharmacies in Northern Illinois have exceeded the 20- prescriptions-per-hour-per-pharmacist threshold so far in 2005 — nearly 1 in 5 pharmacies for which records are available. Another 130 pharmacies are in the “grey zone” between 15 and 20 prescriptions per pharmacist hour, meaning they likely exceed the safety threshold at peak hours.

“Walgreens is caught in its own Web of mistruths,” said Chuck Sauer, executive director of the National Pharmacists Association. “The bottom line is that many pharmacists are too rushed to make sure patients go home with the right prescription. We’re not willing to put up with that level of risk. Walgreens seems to be.”

“This is the direct result of Walgreens’ systematic implementation of its assembly line philosophy, under which pharmacists are made to work at ever- increasing speeds, compromising patient safety.”

The company’s numbers and its own pharmacists contradict the company’s repeated claims that its pharmacies are adequately staffed and that pharmacists are never pushed to go beyond what they considered is safe.

“One night I noticed an error and told everyone working with me to slow the pace down, because we did not want anyone dying under our watch,” said Joan Schwimmer, a Walgreens pharmacist in Northbrook. “The next day I was reprimanded and told not to do it again.”

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is on record stating that “workload conditions … impact the public health and safety,” and leading medical studies at major pharmacy and medical schools, including Auburn and Texas Tech, document that the risk of error rises along with the number of prescriptions filled per hour.

A landmark Auburn University study demonstrated that “the number of errors increases significantly” between 20 and 24 prescriptions filled per hour, and that any hourly average over 23.5 creates a “high risk of making errors.”

“Pharmacists are in the business of making people healthy and keeping them safe,” Sauer said. “We are on record with Walgreens that a workload over 20 per hour creates an unacceptable risk for patients, but have been ignored,” said Sauer. “Even pharmacies that on average don’t break the safety threshold routinely exceed it at peak hours. This problem affects every patient at every Walgreens.”

Some states have set workload standards to help curb prescription errors. Based on available research, North Carolina’s Board of Pharmacy set a 150- prescription-per-shift threshold (or 18.75 for an eight-hour shift). In 1994, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy Examiners set a quota of 14 prescriptions per hour per pharmacist.

“Not only does the pace itself increase the chance for misfiled prescription, but it also leaves pharmacists no time to counsel the patient, which is usually when you might catch a mistake,” said Sauer. “We can’t provide the level of personal service that Walgreens has made the cornerstone of its marketing.”

Studies have shown that adequate time to counsel patients can curb the risk of them going home with the wrong drug by as much as 90 percent.

“We hoped Walgreens would start putting patients ahead of profits,” Sauer said. “Instead, their response has been to intimidate our members and try to break this union so that there is no one left to call attention to them jeopardizing patient safety.”

My Comment - Why wasn’t this on the evening news?