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Aggressive Customers May Increase Medication Errors at the Pharmacy

David W. Hodges
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Partner at Kennedy Hodges LLP practicing pharmacy error, medical malpractice and personal injury law
Posted on Aug 08, 2012

A new study reveals that angry customers at your pharmacy may not just be wasting your time—they could be putting your life in danger.

The study, in which 18 Scottish community pharmacists were interviewed about a total of 37 incidents involving aggressive customers, revealed that the pharmacists were more likely to make medication dispensing errors after interacting with the aggressive customers. 

“Pharmacists considered that near misses and errors that occurred immediately after an aggressive event were linked to the emotional distress caused by the event,” the authors of the study stated.

Many of the pharmacists interviewed said the aggressive incidents caused them emotional distress, which increased the risk of an error because their mind remained preoccupied with the event even after the customer had left the pharmacy counter.

The pharmacists, who were mostly female, also believed that aggressive incidents at the pharmacy were predominantly caused by waiting times, a lack of understanding about the pharmacist’s role, and the patient’s own combative personality. 

“These findings suggest that there may be a relatively widespread lack of knowledge about the importance of accurate medicine, which may consequently hinder the ability of pharmacists to interact successfully with patients and other healthcare workers,” the authors said.  

After the pharmacists became aware of this potential danger to patients, many reported the use of nontechnical skills to cope with the emotional fallout of an unpleasant or aggressive customer. These tactics include leadership skills, situational awareness, task management, and active decision-making skills. The study’s authors said they support the idea that such tactics could improve patient safety, but noted that further research should be done.

“Such research could form the foundation for training protocols designed to improve the effectiveness of nontechnical skills in pharmacy practice and consequently reduce the potential impact of patient aggression on patient safety,” the authors stated.  

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