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How Your Pharmacy Assistant Training Helps Prevent Medication Errors & Save Lives

Jan 02, 2017

pharmacy assistant program

Medication errors are a significant cause of serious injury and death, both in Canada and the United States. In Canada, medical errors combined with hospital-acquired infections claim between 30,000 and 60,000 lives each year.  In the US, medication error is a leading cause of mortality—with dispensing errors accounting for 21% of patient deaths.

Medication errors include dispensing the wrong drug, dose, quantity, attaching incorrect (or incomplete) labels, or failing to fully explain how to administer a drug.

So what role do pharmacy assistants play in helping to prevent medication mistakes?  What kinds of safeguards have community and hospital pharmacies put in place to minimize human error and protect patients’ lives?

Let’s break down some of the medication safety protocols you can expect to follow on the job, after completing your pharmacy assistant training.

Prescription drop-off and Computer Entry

Many medication errors take place during the initial transcription stage. A name or other important patient identifier may be entered incorrectly, or a key detail may be omitted or recorded inaccurately—setting the stage for dangerous dispensing errors.

Pharmacies have prescription drop-off and entry protocols set in place, which pharmacy assistants are trained to follow strictly, each and every time, to reduce mix-ups. These include ensuring each entry has not just one, but two patients identifiers, which helps avoid confusion between names that sound or look alike.  To add an additional layer of security, pharmacy assistants may also collect other important information such as the age of the patient, any allergies, contraindications, etc.

Pharmacy assistant courses teach students how to use the latest pharmacy software, including prescription entry systems with built-in safety measures—such as drug alerts. Alerts include medication interactions, allergies, duplications, and other clinical warnings that the assistant must relay to the pharmacist immediately.  It’s important for assistants to resist short-cuts around the computer safety protocols or ignore safety alerts when things get busy, as such oversights could prove very dangerous to patients.

Safety Measures for Drug Preparation & Storage

Pharmacies put a range of safety measures in place to minimize errors during drug preparation.  Workstations are set up carefully with adequate lighting and counter space, and careful attention is paid to the flow of tasks. For example, pharmacy assistants are taught to adhere to an established routine for preparing drugs, affixing labels, double-checking prescriptions, and storing medications. No drug containers should ever be left unlabeled, and in many pharmacies, bottles that look alike, or contain similar-sounding medications, are stored away from each other to avoid mix-ups.

Clear Communication During Patient Counselling

Patient counselling is an important step for catching medication errors that have slipped through the net—and preventing future mistakes the patient might make when taking the drug later on.

Before the pharmacy assistant gives the medication to the patient, he or she will double check their identity by asking for a second identifier. For example, instead of just checking the patient’s name, the assistant will also ask for their address or date of birth, and match the information against the prescription and vial.

If assigned the task, pharmacy assistants will carefully walk patients through how and when to take their medication, which helps protect against misunderstood directions for use (which can result in serious injury or death).

Above all, and at every stage of the work flow, pharmacy assistants use a razor-sharp attention to detail to ensure all safety protocols are followed, and any discrepancies are quickly reported to the supervising pharmacist.  Sound judgement and critical thinking are important in this role, as well as meticulousness and a deep sense of ethical responsibility for the well-being of patients.

Do you think you have what it takes to become a pharmacy assistant? Looking for a reputable and comprehensive pharmacy assistant program in Ottawa?

Take a look at Herzing College’s Pharmacy Assistant diploma program, delivered at our Ottawa campus. The program takes just 10 months to complete, and includes a 4-week internship for  on-the-job experience.

We’re proud to report that 100% of surveyed Pharmacy Assistant graduates found work in their field after graduation!

Visit the Pharmacy Assistant program page for a complete list of courses, career options, or to chat live with an advisor. We’re here to help.




Visit Pharmacy Assistant Program Page for More Information




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