The big questions for pharmacists

Big questions in pharmacy

PDL employs four pharmacist Professional Officers who are available 24/7 for PDL members. From the thousands of calls and emails received every year by the Professional Officers, there are several common questions or themes. The following is a summary of some common themes. For specific advice, contact PDL on 1300 854 838 and speak with a Professional Officer.

1. There has been an incident – what do I do next?

While the general nature of an incident may be one of a small number of incident types, the Professional Officers recognise that pharmacists and patients handle such situations differently.

  • The primary concern should always be the wellbeing of the patient.
  • Focus on this aspect will often reassure the patient or family members that the matter is being handled professionally.
  • An apology and reassurance of practice change may be sufficient to see the matter closed.
  • PDL members have access to the Guide to Incident Management in the members portal. This guide sets out actions and other processes to manage an incident or claim.
  • The member portal also includes other guides and resources exclusively available to PDL members that provide helpful information on a range of incident types.

2. Do I need to report this?

This is a common question to the Professional Officers. While the advice is always individualised, the general guidance would be to report any situation where there is an error, a near miss known to a patient, or another situation where there is potential for a complaint to be made. It is a condition of claims-made Professional Indemnity policies to report anything that has or may give rise to a claim.

3. I have received a regulatory complaint – what will happen to me?

This question and the emotions linked to the situation are understandable and experienced by most pharmacists who receive a notification from a regulatory agency.  The Professional Officers recognise that no pharmacist intends to make a dispensing error or cause a situation leading to a notification.

While the Professional Officers are pharmacists, not lawyers, they can provide advice and insight into the notification process, the assistance available to address the complaint and context of the potential outcomes. This advice is based on the experience of assisting hundreds of pharmacists every year with a regulatory notification.

4. I have received a notification from Ahpra/ Pharmacy Council/ HCCC/ OHO and have responded. Is that okay?

  • Any response to a regulatory agency needs to be treated with the utmost respect, even if the pharmacist believes the complaint is inaccurate or there was no consequence for the patient.
  • Regulators are tasked with protecting the public and as statutory authorities they are obliged to investigate almost all complaints.
  • The PDL policy is there to assist with a response, subject to the policy confirmation.
  • Members may respond without our assistance, but experience shows that a better outcome is achieved by utilising PDL and the services of the policy underwriter, Guild insurance. This is a member benefit.
  • Contact PDL as soon as you become aware of any action by a statutory or regulatory body.
  • The Professional Officers encourage pharmacists to seek any request for a response in writing if possible and if there is any doubt please call PDL.

5. Can I deny supply?

  • There are many variables considered by the Professional Officers when answering this question.
  • A pharmacist can deny supply if they believe there is a risk of harm or consequence to the patient or the public.
  • Pharmacists are considered the gatekeepers to medicines and have an independent role to ensure that any medicine supplied is safe, appropriate and indicated.
  • There may be cases of suspected misuse of medicines. Denial or deferral of supply or supply of a minimum quantity may be options to manage this situation in the short term.
  • It is vital the pharmacist has sufficient information from the patient and/or prescriber to make an informed decision and has considered all options when taking this action.
  • Documentation is vital including the reasons for any action and the advice provided to the patient, prescriber, or others.
  • Off-label prescribing is allowed however a risk/benefit analysis must be done and informed consent should be confirmed.

6. I have been asked to provide patient information to a third party. Can I supply it?

  • Pharmacists may receive requests to provide information about patients or occasionally a prescriber.
  • A range of people may be entitled to request such information however confirmation of the person’s legal entitlement to the material should always be confirmed.
  • Some situations are more common and legally endorsed such as police requesting information as part of an investigation.
  • A representative from a regulatory agency such as a Health Department or registering body may seek information under State or Commonwealth legislation.
  • Other occasions where a pharmacist may be allowed to assist would be if a lawyer provides an authority confirming an individual can act on behalf of the patient or their estate.
  • There may be times when a family member requests patient information for a genuine reason but without proper legal authority. These situations need to be handled professionally with empathy however pharmacists should explain the strict privacy and confidentiality requirements that limit assistance to certain situations.

For immediate advice and incident support, call PDL on 1300 854 838 to speak with one of our Professional Officers. We are here to support our pharmacist members 24/7, Australia-wide.