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Original Research

The decision-making processes of pharmacists in inland Australia - a pilot study

Submitted: 19 July 2010
Revised: 4 April 2011
Published: 19 April 2011

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Author(s) : Madden ME, Ball PA.

Mary MaddenPatrick Ball

Citation: Madden ME, Ball PA.  The decision-making processes of pharmacists in inland Australia - a pilot study. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2011; 11: 1573. Available: (Accessed 17 October 2017)


Introduction:  Little research has been conducted analysing the organisational risks that compound and trigger dispensing and medication errors. This pilot study appraises the attitudes to and behaviours related to the dispensing errors of pharmacists practising in diverse venues and roles in inland Australia.
Methods:  Twelve pharmacists working in the Riverina (Wiradjuri country) participated in a structured interview consisting of a brief survey and open-ended questions. The interviews were audio-recorded for transcription, then analysed by the interviewer for emerging themes. In this pilot study, the attitudes and actions of pharmacists in response to dispensing errors were explored to determine the nature of organisational strategies implemented to detect and recover ‘slips, lapses and mistakes’. The rationale behind investigating attitudes and actions stems from the theory of planned behaviour.
Results:  While many common themes emerged, the attitudes of each pharmacist were unique. The strategies implemented to prevent errors were venue-specific and purpose-designed to the training level of the staff and physical environment. A diverse mix of attitudes was represented by the sample, with no correlation between worksite, sex, age or role identified. Trends may emerge because, in regard to dispensing errors, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control play a greater role in forming the intention to act, rather than personal attitudes. The majority of examples given by participants was discussion of recorded errors and near misses, which included changes to procedures implemented to prevent the same error occurring. This culture of continuous quality improvement was the overarching common theme. Other common themes were the role of technology in the supply of medicines, privacy implications when drawing staff from a rural or regional centre, workload concerns with regard to management responsibility and the impact of the way error management was demonstrated during the formative early years of practice. Distraction from dispensing, through management roles in pharmacies with moderate prescription volumes, was a common contributor to errors.
Conclusion:  A culture of continuous quality improvement exists amongst pharmacists in Inland Australia, which would benefit from improved dialogue about the impact of organisational risks on the rate of dispensing errors. The safety culture, and behaviour modelling experienced during the internship program has a profound impact on the perceived behavioural control of young pharmacists. This year instils mores, which may be the result of independent survival in remote and regional settings, rather than compliance with professional practice standards. While many of the pressures and demands of minimising errors are common across the profession; unique, venue specific strategies are commonly implemented in the cycle of continuous quality improvement in regional and remote settings.

Key words: Australia, community pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, medication errors, pharmacy legislation, risk management.

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