Men, and those aged 36-45 at higher risk of complaint

Fewer than 1% of pharmacists accounted for nearly a third of all complaints in Australia, according to new research

A review of data on all pharmacists registered to practise in Australia between 2011 and 2016 reveals around 6% of pharmacists over that time were subject to at least one complaint to a regulator.

Across the 33,226 pharmacists registered with AHPRA during the study period, 2374 notifications against pharmacists were received by regulators.

The vast majority of pharmacists (94.2%) had no complaints to health regulators during the study period, according to the results published in the Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research.

Meanwhile, approximately 300 pharmacists (0.9% of all pharmacists) were subject to two or more complaints, accounting for over 31% of all complaints about pharmacists.

Mid-career pharmacists aged between 36 and 45 years made up less than 18% of the practising pharmacists, however they accounted for more than a quarter of complaints, the results show.

Compared with pharmacists aged under 36 years of age, the risk of notifications was nearly 40% higher (IRR 1.37, 95% CI, 1.14–1.65) for the 36–45 age group.

Researchers Yamna Taouk, Dr Marie Bismark and Dr Laetitia Hattingh note that concerns have been raised about younger pharmacists reporting high levels of workload stress. In turn, workload stress and fatigue may contribute to dispensing errors, they suggest.

The authors also found that male pharmacists were twice as likely as female pharmacists to be subject to notifications.

While most pharmacists were female (59.9%) during the study period, nearly 60% of pharmacists with complaints were male. This is despite controlling for important confounders, such as average number of hours worked and age.

This finding is consistent with previous research, say the authors. Similar findings on increased complaint risk among male practitioners have also been found in studies of other health professions.

Across the study period, over half (52.2%) of all complaints were made by a client or relative, 17.1% by another health practitioner, 9.1% by police or another government department (such as a drugs and poisons service), 8.6% by a health regulator, and the rest by another agency, employer or a self‐notification from the pharmacists themselves. 

Nearly 60% of the complaints involved medicines. Within this category, approximately 70% raised concerns about the accuracy or appropriateness of dispensing or supply—including errors in the drug, dose, quantity, person, or packaging.

The remainder of medicines‐related complaints raised concerns about lawfulness of dispensing or supply.

One in ten complaints related to interpersonal behaviour or communication (10.3%). 

Meanwhile, over half of the notifications (51.0%) resulted in regulatory action against the pharmacist.

In light of the research findings, PDL Professional Officer Gary West strongly urged pharmacists to look at the PDL Guide to Good Dispensing.

“We would always encourage particularly with dispensing errors or issues associated with dispensing and prescriptions – errors, privacy and confidentiality, advice, declining supply – that clear and professional communication is so important,” Mr West added.

“The report did flag that communication is a significant underlying factor in a lot of the notifications,” he told AJP.

“Even if there has been an error made, the way it has been handled and communicated reflects the likelihood of it being escalated into a formal complaint. Communication is vital in these circumstances.”

Regarding a small group of pharmacists in Australia receiving a disproportionate share of complaints, the authors suggest that improved understanding of these complaint patterns may assist the Pharmacy Board of Australia to develop programs that reduce risk.

They add that further work is needed to understand whether an intervention – such as mentoring following a first complaint – may help to reduce the risk of further complaints.

Their research was supported by an NHMRC Early Career Fellowship and an NHMRC Partnership Grant with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

See the full article in the Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research (online 22 June 2020; login required).

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1 Comment

  1. A Pharmacist

    It is time for pharmacy board, pharmacy council, AHPRA, Australian pharmacy authority, Victorian pharmacy authority to do their homework. As per VPA “as a benchmark, not less than one full-time equivalent pharmacist dispensing an average of 150 prescriptions over a 9.00am to 6.00pm day, and pro rata at weekends and on public holidays, is regarded as the minimum staffing level. If dispensing levels are in the range of 150-200 prescriptions per day, a trained dispensary assistant and/or an intern pharmacist may assist the pharmacist. If the workload is in the range of 200 to 220 prescriptions daily, a second dispensary assistant may be used but above this workload, a second pharmacist will be necessary for at least part of the day”. Can a sole pharmacist see 150 patients on his/her own in 7 hours 20 min shift? Receive the phone calls, do OTC, Clinical Interventions, serve customers in professional service area, look after rosters, order and stock medicines, finish paperwork, contact prescribers, investigate safe scripts, project stop etc. This workload is equivalent to one minute per prescription item and leads to errors such as the drug, dose, quantity, person, or packaging. The complaint should be against pharmacy board, pharmacy council, AHPRA, Australian pharmacy authority, Victorian pharmacy authority due to their miscalculations and such unrealeastic benchmarks such mistakes are happening, and poor pharmacist are prosecuted. How often these authorities prosecute the owners who are discounting the medicines to attract more and more patients? A GP see only 15-30 patients a day, a nurse to patient ratio is 1 to 1-5, and pharmacist must see and considered responsible for 200 patients and paid least $29.41 per hour. It is time to wake up. It is time for these authorities and organisation to take responsibility for the mess they have created. Can any one single officer do all these activities that they ask us to do, they take 20 minutes just to answer a phone call and days to respond to an email.

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