Joanne Taylor looks at how to improve the working environment in the dispensary

In all the recent audits Vittoria Healthcare has undertaken, limiting distractions and interruptions in the dispensary continues to be a high learning point. This occurs despite staff being asked to keep distractions and interruptions to a minimum, in particular when the final check process is being undertaken. We advised our pharmacies to consider three factors during their working day to see if they made any difference to the number of recorded near misses:

Best times for necessary interruptions

if they are absolutely necessary, interruptions should be made between patients or between medicines being prepared. Always avoid interruptions during the most complex part of the task and never interrupt during the final accuracy checking of a prescription. 

Ask all staff to avoid interrupting colleagues in the dispensary who are preparing, counting, mixing, labelling or checking. They should only be distracted if a significant alteration in a patient’s therapy must be communicated straight away.

Telephone calls

reduce the noise of the telephone by aiming to answer the call within an agreed number of rings. Do not let the telephone ring continuously. Counter staff should share this task to reduce the number of interruptions to dispensary staff. If necessary, counter staff should take details so that the call can be returned at a more convenient time.

Other noise

keep unnecessary talk and conversation to a minimum in the dispensary area to create a ‘no interruption zone’ or a ‘quiet zone’. Conversations should reflect the professional nature of the pharmacy business, especially when patients are within hearing distance. A patient’s medication should never be discussed with colleagues within earshot of another patient, no matter what the medication is.

Any queries regarding a patient’s medication should be communicated between staff as quietly as possible, away from the shop area, so that confidentiality is maintained. Our findings show that teams who implemented these suggestions felt that the dispensing environment improved and they were able to concentrate for longer periods of time without disruption.

They also felt that patients benefited and seemed happier when they received their medication due to the professionalism of all staff involved. Not only were errors reduced, but patient satisfaction was enhanced – a very pleasing outcome for everyone.

Joanne is a registered pharmacy technician and ACPT, and is professional standards lead at Vittoria Healthcare. She is national secretary for the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK (APTUK), and is a member of the Medicines Rebalancing Programme Board at the Department of Health, as well as TM’s editorial advisory panel.


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