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Using Six Sigma to Reduce Medication Errors in a Home-Delivery Pharmacy Service

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Background: Medco Health Solutions, Inc. conducted a project to reduce medication errors in its home-delivery service, which is composed of eight prescription-processing pharmacies, three dispensing pharmacies, and six call-center pharmacies.

Implementing the Project: Medco uses the Six Sigma methodology to reduce process variation, establish procedures to monitor the effectiveness of medication safety programs, and determine when these efforts do not achieve performance goals. A team reviewed the processes in home-delivery pharmacy and suggested strategies to improve the data-collection and medication-dispensing practices. A variety of improvement activities were implemented, including a procedure for developing, reviewing, and enhancing sound-alike/look-alike (SALA) alerts and system enhancements to improve processing consistency across the pharmacies.

Results: "External nonconformances" were reduced for several categories of medication errors, including wrong-drug selection (33%), wrong directions (49%), and SALA errors (69%). Control charts demonstrated evidence of sustained process improvement and actual reduction in specific medication error elements.

Discussion: Establishing a continuous quality improvement process to ensure that medication errors are minimized is critical to any health care organization providing medication services.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-06-01

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