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All prescriptions dispensed by one pharmacist during one month were examined for errors. Only 5·1 per cent of 2,237 prescription forms contained an error which meant the pharmacist had to contact the doctor. Thirty-seven per cent of prescriptions were either wholly or partly written by the receptionist. There was considerable variation between doctors and this varied from zero to 64 per cent; 4·0 per cent of prescriptions written by the doctor contained errors while those written by the receptionist were almost twice as likely (seven per cent) to do so. The majority of mistakes were obvious and trivial but five were potentially serious.
It is recommended that if doctors expect their receptionists to write prescriptions they should ensure that they are adequately trained to do so. The pharmacist can be a valued and trusted colleague who serves to protect patients from doctors' errors.