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).