Drive-Thru Windows Drive Pharmacists to Distraction, Mistakes--June 2009

Pharmacy drive-thru windows aim to please patients by allowing for convenient transactions, but a recent study found that pharmacists find the windows to be anything but pleasing. Researchers at Ohio State University surveyed 429 US pharmacists and discovered that an overwhelming number of them saw drive-thru windows in their pharmacies as a detriment to efficiency and a contributor to medication errors.

"The drive-thru window, overall, poses a huge problem with respect to causing dispensing errors, contributing to communication errors, delaying processing, and forcing staff to take more steps," said Sheryl Szeinbach, the study's lead author. "Think about it-that window has to be in an area that's convenient for the patient driving up to the window, yet may not-and obviously is not-convenient to the pharmacist and the staff. The link between drive-thru and dispensing errors alone should be a concern to the public."

After all, if what the responding pharmacists said holds true, the convenience-seeking public that pulls up to the drive-thru window is suffering for it along with pharmacists and other employees. According to the survey, pharmacists see the drive-thru as the largest cause of creating extra steps in the work process, reducing efficiency and causing delays, and bringing on communication and dispensing errors.

"A pharmacist or staff member could be responsible for 4 or 5 tasks, and serving people at the drive-thru window is just one of them," said Szeinbach.

The survey asked pharmacists about the layout and design of the pharmacies in which they work, including the presence of a drive-thru window and the availability of automated dispensing technology, as well as whether given features had a positive or negative impact on dispensing errors, miscommunications, prescription processing time, efficiency, and physical mobility in the pharmacy.

Responding pharmacists acknowledged that other factors could contribute to errors and reductions in efficiency, but drive-thru windows were deemed the biggest culprit. On a positive note, the pharmacists cited automated dispensing systems as a boon for efficiency and accuracy.