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Behind the scenes at the St. Paul’s Hospital pharmacy

Celebrated every March, Pharmacy Appreciation Month is a national campaign that shines a spotlight on all things pharmacy.

Have you ever wondered how the right medication, for the right patient, arrives on the right hospital unit at just the right time?

Most of the magic takes place behind closed doors inside the pharmacy.

At St. Paul’s Hospital, a diverse pharmacy team works to supply medications to both St. Paul’s and Mount Saint Joseph hospitals. They review 3,500 to 4,000 medication orders per day and also handle medication refill requests, medication schedule changes, purchasing, inventory management, and more.

The department is staffed by some 150 people, including clinical pharmacists, clinical pharmacy specialists, dispensary pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy assistants. They cover a range of specialty areas such as ICU, transplant, cardiac surgery and internal medicine.  

So, what does the journey of a prescription drug look like?

First, a physician on a hospital unit orders a medication for a patient electronically. The order immediately arrives at the pharmacy where it is triaged according to how urgently it’s needed.

In the pharmacy dispensary, a pharmacist reviews each order to ensure the medication is both effective and safe for the patient. Pharmacists assess the drug and its dose, whether there are drug interactions, or if there are patient-specific factors that may make the medication inappropriate.

After the order is verified by the pharmacist, it’s prepared by a pharmacy technician. Labels with patient and dosing information are printed and the technician matches the correct product with the order.

Many safe-to-handle medications are pulled from bins on the shelves, while sterile compounds, such as intravenous antibiotics, are prepared in a special room.

Once the medication is packaged and labelled, it undergoes yet another check to ensure the correct product has been prepared.  

Finally, the medication is delivered, sometimes through the pneumatic tube system, or, if the order is too large for the tube (or it is an expensive drug), a porter delivers it.

And, just like that, it appears on the unit ready for the patient.

Filling a prescription through the hospital pharmacy is a complex team effort filled with checks and balances to ensure accuracy and patient safety.   

Related story: From prescriber’s pad to patient bedside – a day in the life of a hospital medication