GP receptionists help safeguard patients in repeat prescribing

An over-reliance on electronic health records can pose a risk in repeat prescribing but reception staff making "practical judgments" help to mitigate that risk, according to a study published in the BMJ.

Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London analysed how doctors, receptionists and other administrative staff utilised repeat prescribing routines at four UK general practices. They concluded that an over-reliance on electronic health records can affect the quality and safety of repeat prescribing, but that receptionists and administrative staff often use "practical judgments" to help bridge the gap between formal prescribing protocols and the complex reality of the repeat prescribing process.

The findings highlight the need to ensure that training in repeat prescribing goes beyond technology to help safeguard patients.

Repeat prescriptions account for up to three quarters of all medication prescribed and four fifths of medication costs in UK general practice and repeat prescribing has long been recognised as a significant quality and safety concern. It is often assumed that electronic records make repeat prescribing safer by reducing human error but it may also introduce technology-related errors.

Studying technology-supported work routines opens up a relatively unexplored agenda for patient safety research, the researchers conclude.

Professor Anthony Avery from the University of Nottingham Medical School said in an accompanying editorial: "It seems reasonable to encourage well trained receptionists to use their initiative in repeat prescribing, but practices need to ensure that members of staff do not step beyond their levels of knowledge and competence."