Mental demands of pediatric hospital pharmacy staff have varying effects on likelihood of medication errors and adverse events

Research Activities, August 2011, No. 372

Workload in hospital pharmacies doesn't tell the whole story of medication errors, suggests a new study. The researchers note that previous studies used prescription volume or rate as an indicator of work intensity, but failed to find an association between workload and medication safety. The findings of their study suggest that regulation of work volume, without consideration of the mental demands of the work itself, may be mobilizing a costly solution that may not address the real problem. They surveyed 48 pharmacists and 31 pharmacy technicians at two pediatric hospitals about task-specific mental workload and its perceived effect on medication safety and employee well-being.

Results showed that each increase in external task demands (such as interruptions, divided attention, and feeling rushed) more than doubled the perceived likelihood of medication errors (odds ratio [OR] = 2.56) and nearly doubled the perceived likelihood of adverse drug events (OR = 1.58). In contrast, increased internal mental task demands (effort and concentration) had no association with the perceived likelihoods of medication errors or adverse events (OR = 1.04 and 1.11, respectively). Furthermore, external task demands were associated with increased job dissatisfaction and burnout, while internal demands reduced the likelihood of dissatisfaction. No differences were noted between pharmacists and technicians.

Because the two hospitals were similar and the numbers surveyed were relatively small, the researchers suggest further research be done in a variety of pharmacy settings. They also point out that there are many solutions for workload through design interventions, policymaking, and management. The study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13610 and T32 HS00083).

More details are in "Effect of mental demands during dispensing on perceived medication safety and employee well-being: A study of workload in pediatric hospital pharmacies," by Richard J. Holden, Ph.D., Neal R. Patel, M.D., Matthew C. Scanlon, M.D., and others in Research in Social & Administrative Pharmacy 6(4), pp. 293-306, 2010.

Current as of August 2011
Internet Citation: Mental demands of pediatric hospital pharmacy staff have varying effects on likelihood of medication errors and adverse events: Research Activities, August 2011, No. 372. August 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/aug11/0811RA6.html