Guest Editorial: Quality What?

NOVEMBER 01, 2008
Ryan Swanson, PharmD

Dr. Swanson is currently serving as executive resident with the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists. He is a 2008 graduate of Campbell University's School of Pharmacy.

Medicare fix. Comparative effectiveness. Health care reform. There is certainly no shortage of buzz words that pharmacists employ in discussing today's hot-button issues. But how many pharmacists, when peppering their conversations with these catchy phrases, truly grasp the full depth of the issues? I will be the first to admit my guilt.

Until a few months ago, if pressed to describe the concept of quality assurance (QA), I would have offered an answer along these lines: "assuring quality in pharmacy practice." The more I learn about QA, the more I cannot believe I made it through 4 years of pharmacy school without becoming more familiar with an expression of such consequence. Imagine my chagrin to discover that my state actually has a law mandating QA programs for all pharmacies! Fortunately, one of my first residency projects involved developing a QA training session for pharmacy inspectors, forcing me to become knowledgeable on a topic to which I may have remained otherwise oblivious.

Was I alone in my ignorance? That was my initial fear. The more I spoke with friends still in pharmacy school, however, my peers, and even fellow pharmacists who have been practicing for years, the answer more often than not was: "quality what?" To be frank, the inspectors who participated in our training session—none of them pharmacists—were far more knowledgeable on the subject of QA than I was when I sat for my boards.

The issue here is not that pharmacy schools have been negligent in educating future pharmacists on QA; the fundamentals of QA were definitely part of the fabric of my pharmacy training, and any good pharmacist will do what he or she can to reduce the possibility of a medication error. The real problem stems from a lack of physical visibility of QA programs in pharmacies, inevitably leading to an underutilization of the systems and promoting the occurrence of medication errors.

Chances are good that you, as a pharmacist, know the procedure for handling a medication error that has already occurred.

Is it not just as vital that you know how to record the error that almost occurred to prevent it from happening again? If quality assurance rings merely as a hollow catchphrase to you, it is time to discover just what QA means to you and to your pharmacy practice. If you are not sure where to start, your state pharmacy association can provide you with the resources necessary to establish such a program.