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Published July 2020
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Case Study

Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust reduces medication errors in pharmacy dispensing

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Key Results

Overall prevented error rates in dispensing were reduced by 76 per cent

Dispensing rate increased by 6.7 per cent

The problem

There are an estimated 37.8 million dispensing errors made in England each year representing 15.9 per cent of all medication errors.

Unfortunately, medication errors are not unfamiliar to trusts, and Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust was no different.

Medication errors in prescribing and dispensing often occur due to small differences in drug name, strength and form, making dispensing errors more susceptible to human error.

The solution

So, in effort to reduce the number of medication dispensing errors within their trust, Royal Cornwall Hospitals introduced GS1 standards and barcode scanning into their dispensing process.

Over two independent 12-day periods, they then assessed the prevented error rates, the speed of dispensing and staff perception, to review efficacy. One period where scanning was introduced, and the other where it was not.

"The combined time savings as a result of a faster dispensing process and a reduction in re-work correcting errors, was equivalent to 0.2 whole time equivalent (WTE). That is a significant amount of time given back to the department so we can focus on other patient facing tasks."

Iain Davidson (chief pharmacist)

The results

Where barcode scanning had been implemented they saw a significant reduction in overall prevented error rates in dispensing by 76 percent.

Dispensing speed was also much faster with the time taken to label eight test prescription items falling from 177 seconds to 165 seconds – a rate 6.7 per cent faster.

Overall, 97 per cent of users agreed that scanning reduced the likelihood of medication errors and 42 per cent agreed that it improved their dispensing speed.

Next, they plan to integrate GS1 standards into other steps within the process and to extend implementation to wards, scanning at the patient bedside.

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