Reducing Risk in the Pharmacy: A Key Step to Improving Patient Safety

By Dennis Wright

Although healthcare has always been fast-paced and complex, the pandemic has amplified these challenges and introduced dynamics that can put patient safety and quality care at risk. Mounting staff shortages due to unprecedented levels of burnout are forcing hospitals and health systems to care for high-acuity patients with fewer staff. And, while the massive spikes in seriously ill COVID-19 patients appear to be waning, patient acuity may increase in the future. Some experts hypothesize that the disruption of routine screenings and preventive care due to the ongoing public health emergency will increase the severity of cancers and other life-threatening illnesses. Providers have been detecting these diseases later than usual, which can lead to more aggressive and invasive therapies that require a hospital stay. A larger patient volume, coupled with staffing shortages, could bring on a crisis in advanced disease care across the board. Add to this persistent supply chain issues, manufacturing labor shortages, and shipping disruptions, and you have a perfect storm that could mean greater risks to patient care.

Organizations need to become more resilient and proactive to mitigate the known risks, as well as the ones we have yet to experience. While moving beyond crisis response may be difficult, it is important work. The healthcare industry has had the chance to learn from the challenges of the past two years, and now is the time to make crucial changes for handling what comes next.

Technology can help build resilience

Implementing technology has long been an effective strategy for reducing risks in healthcare. Electronic prescribing solutions, automated IV pumps, smart beds, and portable health monitors have reduced patient care risks associated with a busy, complex, and rapidly changing care environment. These tools standardize repetitive tasks, minimize the potential for human error, and incorporate critical safeguards—all while maintaining efficiency.

Robotic solutions are an advancing technology that could have a similar transformative effect in certain areas. For example, they present a significant opportunity for pharmacies to improve the consistency and reliability of sterile compounding. This multistep process is often done manually, and each step is prone to error, whether that’s selecting the wrong drug, mixing the wrong dosage, or using the wrong packaging. Robotic solutions minimize human touches, utilize standardized workflows, and boost the speed of sterile compounding. This supports greater dose accuracy, minimizes contamination, and helps get the most therapeutically effective drugs to patients faster. In addition, this technology also helps hospital pharmacies gain control over their sterile compounding operation and minimize supply chain disruptions from 503B outsourcers. Relying less on these outsourcers can also improve hospital financials.

Data intelligence is another technological innovation that can benefit the pharmacy, helping the department plan for the unknown and respond to dynamic situations more effectively. There is a substantial amount of data across the medication supply chain. Curating, organizing, and leveraging that information will help pharmacists anticipate and mitigate medication management risks. Data intelligence solutions that analyze expiration dates, medication location, therapeutic use, dispensation rates, and other data can uncover trends, allowing pharmacy leaders to anticipate supply chain risks and proactively respond to limit their impact. For example, a pharmacy can monitor certain treatments, calculate days and quantity on hand, and anticipate when inventory levels may be low. This can help them place orders or make contingency plans to avoid stock issues.

Modernizing the pharmacy could reduce risk

Patient safety has long been a priority for healthcare organizations, and the pandemic has heightened risks in this area. By leveraging technology to remove manual processes and enable more data-driven decision-making in the pharmacy, organizations can improve the consistency and reliability of medication management—a key factor in ensuring the safest possible patient care.

Dennis Wright is senior director of product marketing at Omnicell.