ASHP InterSections ASHP InterSections

September 1, 2008

Helping Technicians Fulfill a Stronger Role

            Safe, effective medication use is predicated on ensuring that everyone on the pharmacy team works at the same level of excellence. In addition to pharmacists, that includes pharmacy technicians, who are the backbone of much of what we do. We need technicians to take on even more if we hope to step out of the pharmacy and onto the patient-care floors.

            Unfortunately, pharmacy technicians are one of only a few positions in healthcare for which there is no standardized training. Yet in order for technicians to play an even greater role as part of the pharmacy team, pharmacists must insist on appropriate technician education, training, and certification.

            ASHP’s position is that all pharmacy technicians should complete ASHP-accredited training programs, be certified by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, and be registered by state boards of pharmacy.

            Getting that done won’t happen overnight. And it can only happen with the help of our members.

            So, we are asking all of our state affiliates to partner with us on a new Pharmacy Technician Initiative. Under the program, each affiliate will work with us to assess existing regulations, existing state-based training programs, and other local factors. In turn, we will help develop a legislative action plan for each affiliate and offer support via the new Pharmacy Technician Initiative resource center on ASHP’s Web site.

            As of publication time, affiliates from the states of California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, and Wyoming have agreed to join with us.

            Stay tuned as we move this exciting effort forward—we’re eager to work with the leaders of each affiliate as we improve the abilities of our pharmacy technician workforce.

June 1, 2008

Getting to the Root of IV Medication Errors

            In November 2007, an intravenous medication error that could have been fatal for the newborn twin daughters of actor Dennis Quaid and his wife Kimberly occurred. Sadly, this event is only the latest in a series of recent errors that injured or killed a child. Part of the tragedy of these events is that we, as healthcare providers, continue to ignore the lessons that should have been learned.

            Even though several of these errors occurred with medications that have now been re-labeled, the contributory factors remain. Non-standardization; poorly designed, incomplete, or ambiguous labeling; unsafe storage practices; and inadequately trained or supervised personnel—all are part of a IV medication-use system that must be overhauled.

            The biomedical literature is replete with research on the causes of IV medication errors and successful preventive strategies, some of which have been used effectively. But this knowledge has not made a lasting, sustainable change in the way hospitals and health systems work; in packaging, labeling, and equipment design improvements; or in the creation of new mandatory regulatory or quality standards.

            So, ASHP is stepping into the gap to bring about fundamental, lasting change. Together with the ASHP Research and Education Foundation, we are calling together key players July 14–15 to an IV Safety Summit to study this issue in depth and seek new solutions.

            Panelists include nationally renowned experts like medication-safety advocate David Bates, M.D., with Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Carolyn Clancy, M.D., with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; and Gerald J. Dal Pan, M.D., director of the Office of Drug Safety for the FDA. Other participants include representatives from healthcare professional associations, industry, federal agencies, safety and quality oversight groups, and human factors experts.

            Together, we will examine current evidence on the causes of intravenous errors, such as clinical issues, human factors, process design, and technology, as well as effective error-prevention methods. Our goal is action that will create sustainable changes in our hospitals and health systems. It’s time to put an end to IV medication errors, once and for all.

March 1, 2008

The Importance of Communicating Clearly with Our Patients

            I have been thinking a lot lately about the effect of poor health literacy on our patients’ ability to understand and correctly use their medi­cations. Only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In other words, nearly nine out of 10 adults may lack the skills needed to successfully manage their health and prevent disease.

            Other studies back that up, finding, for example, that patients suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, or HIV/AIDS know less about their illness and how to man­age it properly if they have poor health literacy.

            ASHP cares deeply about this public health issue and is doing a number of things to address it. As you’ll see in the 2007 Annual Report that accompanies this magazine, we recently collaborated with the ASHP Research and Education Foundation to create My Medicine List™.

            Designed to help patients document the kind of medica­tion information that is essential to share with pharmacists and other healthcare providers, the tool is an outcome of the Continuity of Care in Medication Use Summit that ASHP and the Foundation sponsored last year. The list, which was specially designed to meet health literacy require­ments, can be found on and

            I encourage you to begin thinking about how you can help improve the ways in which you communicate with patients about their medications. Don’t take anything for granted. If health literacy isn’t on your administration’s radar screen, begin to talk about it. Share some facts and figures with your phar­macy team about the impact of literacy on compliance, patient health, and the cost of healthcare.

            The data is readily available on many federal, state and private healthcare Web sites, including,, and  Many of the most relevant studies are captured on ASHP’s Web site; simply go to and search on the term “health literacy.”

           And be sure to share My Medicine List with your patients, colleagues, family, and friends. A key part of our mission as pharmacists is to ensure that our patients understand how to use their medications safely and effectively. Beginning to break down health literacy barriers can go a long way toward that goal.

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