Yesterday, I decided to record the number of distractions I faced on a regular work day. This proved to be a distraction in itself considering the pharmacy where I worked is in an open plan where technicians, phones, cubicles and door to the hospital hallway are all within ten feet of where I sit. There are four or five telephone lines which ring regularly. There are usually one to two other pharmacists sitting within five feet and two to three technicians in the same vicinity.
Yesterday I recorded over 150 interruptions. I even faulted myself for starting personal conversations which distracted others.
What are some things we can do to make the pharmacy workplace have less distractions? Interruptions contribute to medication errors and having a dedicated space where interruptions are not allowed should be implemented. Chemotherapy entry, preparation and checking definitely falls into this category. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices found that each interruption is associated with a 12.7% increase in errors. I have personally attempted to enter new chemotherapy on a patient in the noisiest place where phones are ringing consistently, technicians are interrupting the workflow with issues on the phone that they cannot handle and other staff are just walking by to chat, all while the TV is reporting the news and a radio in the back is piping out 80s music. It is enough to cause me to go into panic mode. Ask for a dedicated space with less distractions or a no-interruption zone. You may not get it but it is on the record that you asked. In the meantime, one tip I have tried is headphones with something soothing to completely block out all noise when concentration is key. Bose makes great noise-canceling headphones that work! Though I would love to work in silence, blocking out everything but one sound is better than ten sounds all interrupting and distracting what you are trying to do safely.
Another source of interruptions is when a medication is out-of-stock. This issue can completely lead a pharmacist into a rabbit hole of issues. First I have to ask if we have the medication which leads to comments of inventory failure and what process is to blame. Second we have to call other hospitals and ask to borrow a medication which interrupts them as well. We also have to call a courier service to deliver the medication which leads to delay in delivery of treatment to the patient. If we could reduce missing medications, we could reduce distractions and phone calls. This type of interruption falls under system distractions along with medication timing and other issues that causes distractions on how we handle system failures or deficits.
Alert fatigue is another source of distraction. It is common for me to receive five or more alerts per order when entering a medication with the majority being unnecessary. For example, when entering a sodium chloride IV fluid, I will routinely be alerted that the chloride in the IV fluid will be a duplication with the potassium chloride (chloride duplication). I will also receive an alert that sodium chloride is on national backorder. Most of the times medication alerts include what is formulary, nonformulary, to notify IT staff when medication is depleted, duplication of class that isn't clinically significant, insignificant labs that can include a time period longer than current hospitalization and even how to enter medications differently for a new process that can change quite often. It is used more times than not as an email to communicate inventory issues that should be saved for another time and not when entering a medication where the most important issues are drug, strength, indication, directions and allergies. All of the important stuff can be diluted quickly by things that are nowhere near as important than the task at hand.
Educating the staff is very important in handling distractions and improving patient safety. Educating the staff to know when to interrupt with something important that cannot wait a second and when to write a note for the pharmacist to handle a few minutes later is important. Placing phones with multiple lines in a separate area to lower distractions while the pharmacist is entering orders or checking orders and/or having a designated technician to answer phones and not filling is an idea to consider. Also educating a technician on how to answer the phone and troubleshoot is invaluable!
The Institute for Safe Medication Practices has looked at this issue and has an invaluable write-up about things that can be done to help pharmacists and technicians focus on what matters most... patient safety.