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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: June 1, 2005

More about this publication?
  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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