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Verbal phone prescription orders prone to errors

May 13, 2020

Three recommendations to help ensure clear communication between practitioners.

Verbal phone orders from prescribers to pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are becoming more common during the pandemic, particularly with the temporary exemptions provided by the Office of Controlled Substances allowing verbal prescriptions for controlled substances. However, verbal prescriptions can be prone to errors.  

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) Canada has identified several concerns related to the provision of verbal phone orders for prescriptions and has published Strategies for Safer Telephone and Other Verbal Orders in Defined Circumstances. These recommendations for practitioners prescribing and receiving verbal prescription orders are helpful in preventing errors. 

In addition to ensuring clear and appropriate communication, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are reminded that there are standards that they must maintain when receiving verbal prescription orders to prevent errors and reduce the risks of diversion. These include the following:

  1. Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians must ensure the currency, authenticity, and completeness of all verbal prescriptions. When pharmacists receive verbal prescriptions for controlled substances, additional diligence should be applied to confirm the identity of the caller and the authenticity of the prescription including but not limited to confirming the registration number of the prescriber.
  2. Pharmacists must consider relevant information which may include reviewing the electronic health record (e.g., Netcare) prior to dispensing a verbal prescription.
  3. Documentation of the verbal prescription must be reduced to writing and signed by the pharmacist or pharmacy technician.

For more information on these standards, please refer to the Standards of Practice for Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians.


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