Technicians at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital pharmacy are taking on more responsibility, allowing pharmacists to spend more time with patients.
The image of a pharmacist in a white lab coat sorting pills at a counter has been left behind at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where patients are just as likely to see them at their bedside as at the pharmacy.
Traditional roles at the hospital's pharmacy have shifted, freeing pharmacists to take a more direct role in treating patients, from taking a patient's drug history to responding to emergency situations.
"We believe very strongly in a pharmacy care model that places pharmacists by the bedsides," said Pat Parker, director of LMH's pharmacy. "We're very active in patient care here and have a very close working relationship with the nursing staff and med staff."
The role of LMH pharmacists, along with training programs that elevate technicians' responsibilities, caught the attention of the Kansas Pharmacy Assn., which recently named LMH the Innovative Pharmacy Practice of the Year.
The pharmacy, on the second floor of the new hospital building that opened in April 1996, serves as a base for eight pharmacists (five of them full time), a clinical coordinator, technicians and paid student interns. Each year, Kansas University pharmacy students also spend one-month rotations at the pharmacy.
Parker said the technicians have taken over many of the responsibilities that pharmacists handled decades ago, including ordering medications, stocking shelves, preparing intravenous mixtures and filling the dose carts that are sent to each floor with a 24-hour supply of medication.
All staff members, including the technicians, are involved in training programs, freeing pharmacists to spend more time on the hospital floors working directly with patients.
"Instead of having only one or two highly trained people to handle patient care situations, here all of our staff are trained in those capabilities," Parker said.
"They recognize that they've got to maintain a high level of continuing education to work here."
The hospital's tech-check-tech program, in which technicians fill and check the carts before they leave the pharmacy, is being copied in other parts of the country. In typical pharmacy situations, a technician fills the chart, which is then checked by a pharmacist. With the system of checks in place, Parker said, error rates are decreased.
"We've looked at other models, and what we've seen is that if you really want to keep errors from happening, you've got to go to the source," he said. "It's based on responsibility. How does that translate out to the patients? It's better care."
Although no system will eliminate all errors, Parker said, mistakes have dropped from about 1 per 100 orders to less than 1 per 1,000 orders. That decrease in errors caused the California Board of Pharmacists to consider starting a similar system.
Gene Meyer, LMH president and chief executive officer, said a business-as-usual attitude does not lead to improvements in health care systems. Innovative thinking does.
"I think what the recognition represents is that the entire Lawrence Memorial Hospital pharmacy is involved in continually realizing ways to improve the care delivered at the hospital," Meyer said.
Bob Williams, executive director of the Kansas Pharmacy Assn., said the relationship between pharmacists and patients is partly why LMH is the first hospital to receive the award in its four-year history.
"The pharmacists at Lawrence Memorial Hospital are a vital part of the health care team," Williams said. "They are a visible presence on the floors of the hospital, not sequestered away in a cubicle filling prescriptions."
Parker said the pharmacy has a reputation at KU, where he teaches a class. Students are expected to work hard during their rotations, he said.
Leisha Jones, who is in her fourth year of the six-year pharmacy program at KU, said students are not only tested on what they've learned in books, but must hone their communication skills by working with patients.
"I think students get to see more of a clinical side at this pharmacy," said Jones, who does billing and technician duties as a paid intern for the pharmacy.
"They use more of the knowledge they've received in school," she said.
-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.