Technology improves medication safety measures

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Jeff Harrell, Pharm. D.
Jeff Harrell, Pharm. D.
No matter your role in healthcare, medication safety is a challenge that has caused you concern. In my job as co-owner of SureCare Rx, an independently owned and operated pharmacy partner to long-term care communities in the northwestern United States, this concern is a central focus. Recently, we took bold steps to overcome common obstacles and reduce medication errors almost completely, capitalizing on cutting-edge technology to lead the way. Here's how:

The challenge

Ensuring the accuracy of resident medication is full of challenges. At the pharmacy level, numerous logistics are taken into account, including:

  • Container choice
  • Sorting method
  • Filling method
  • Sealing method
  • Labeling method
  • Labeling correctness
  • Organization of patient prescriptions
  • Medication verification – quantity
  • Medication verification – type
  • Overall efficiency
  • Overall accuracy
  • Overall cost 

Walk through the doors of a care center, and the obstacles faced by staff are just as many. The smallest inaccuracy in the dispensing of medication, starting with the pharmacy, has the potential to drastically curtail staff members' time spent on attending to the well-being of residents, and also jeopardizes the safety of those in their care.

Now imagine being able to address each of these needs with one integrated technology offering.

The opportunity

Like you, taking a backseat to patient safety wasn't at all in my nature, so in 2011, my colleagues and I began looking for a change that would have a significant impact on the level of safety and simplicity we could offer our partners. At SureCare Rx, we had always employed numerous quality-oriented staff, and, until recently, many of these employees' sole purpose was to manually and visually verify the correctness of the medication being put into multi-dose packaging for each resident. We utilized well-practiced, continuously enforced policies and procedures, and found that the system worked well. However, we sensed that this approach was not as time-efficient as it could be, and also recognized that it was not completely free from the possibility of error. When we asked ourselves, Could it be done better? The answer was a resounding yes. We knew it was time to make that idea of putting forth our “best effort” even better.

In November 2012, after much research and ample consideration, SureCare Rx became the first pharmacy on the West Coast and only the ninth in the nation to begin offering cutting-edge medication verification technology that reduces dispensing errors virtually to zero. Today, by having added the Parata Check Patient Adherence Strip System (PASS) to our suite of technological advancements, we're elevating medication safety to new heights.

The solution

Parata Check PASS further improves the stand-alone PASS technology that SureCare Rx already utilizes, which automates the filling and sealing of unit- and multi-dose medication packages called PASS Packs, generated in resident-specific strips. The new technology reads the 2D barcode imprinted on each PASS Pack, verifies the quantity of contents and flags exceptions for pharmacist review. SureCare Rx's technology adoption greatly reduces medication errors, safeguarding resident wellbeing and freeing up care facility staff to focus on resident care.

This technology, for example, can find one misplaced pill – a pill that is exactly the same size, shape and color as the proper pill – and detect its presence in seconds. In this case, the Check PASS is able to scan the pouch, determine that the writing on the incorrectly packaged pill does not match the intended medication, and notifies the pharmacist that the dose is inaccurate. Other systems rely on verifying factors, such as canister weight, for accuracy, which would not have caught this type of error.

The Parata Check PASS system will enhance numerous medication safety protocols already in place at SureCare Rx partner facilities, including the use of electronic Medication Administration Records (eMARs).

Take charge, find success

At SureCare Rx, we've taken on a forward-thinking mentality to zero in on the obstacles that hinder 100% medication accuracy – and kick them to the curb. As with most things in life, I believe that in healthcare and in pharmacy services, waiting around for others to blaze trails isn't an option. Take a hold of the reins and drive the changes that will make a difference in your residents' care and long-term health. SureCare Rx's decision to move forward with state-of-the-art technology, adapted to fit our standards and aligned with our core mission to achieve the highest level of medication safety while increasing efficiency and lowering costs, has proven to be the answer we were looking for.

Jeff Harrell, Pharm.D., CFts, is the president and co-owner of SureCare Rx based in Seattle, WA.

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