E-prescribing could help cut down on pharmacist errors: association

The head of the Canadian Pharmacist Association says pharmacists need better support but also need to be more accountable.

Head of Canadian Pharmacist Association says pharmacists all over Canada should have to report errors

Alistair Bursey, the chair of the Canadian Pharmacists' Association, says pharmacists all across the country should be required to publicly report their mistakes. (CBC)

The head of the Canadian Pharmacist Association says pharmacists need better support but also need to be more accountable.

The comments come after a Lutsel K'e man, James Marlowe, suffered dizzy spells after a Yellowknife pharmacist accidentally gave him heart medication pills that were 10 times the dose he was prescribed.

Alistair Bursey, the chair of the association, says better technology has to be available to pharmacists to reduce prescription errors and that any mistakes should be reported in a public database.

In October 2016, eight year old Andrew Sheldrick died after an Ontario pharmacist mistakenly switched his sleeping medication for a muscle relaxant. And last June a Nova Scotia woman died after a pharmacist gave her five times the proper dosage of an immune system suppressant. 

"You can't eliminate errors but you can work hard to reduce them," Bursey says.

Mistakes don't need to be reported 

Canadian pharmacists give out more than a million prescriptions every day, according to the association. In the N.W.T., as in many other provinces, mistakes don't have to be reported.

But in Nova Scotia, any time a pharmacist makes an error in giving out prescriptions they have to report it in a public database. Bursey says that kind of transparency is needed across the country.

"I think that transparency, reporting and using that knowledge, measuring it, is critical for us to continue to identify problems in the system and further education for practitioners," he says.

Another way to cut down on mistakes, Bursey says, is a tool called e-prescribing. It's similar to electronic medical records but instead of jotting a prescription on a pad or faxing it to a pharmacy, doctors would enter in all the information on the prescription in a computer program so that pharmacists can pull it up on their screen.

"That eliminates a lot of that confusion or interpretation that pharmacists see when they see a prescription from a physician," Bursey says.

"The sooner we get this in place, the better it will be for practitioners and the safer it will be for patients."

Bursey says the federal government is in talks with provincial and territorial governments about using the technology.