How checklists can improve pharmacy performance

checklist for pharmacy

4 keys to using checklists for better pharmacy operations


  • Running a pharmacy well requires hundreds of actions every day, and relying on memory alone leaves your business open to mistakes.
  • Checklists have proven to be powerful tools in fields as diverse as medicine, aviation and finance to ensure people follow all necessary steps.
  • Create effective checklists for your business that are brief and clear.

From operating rooms to airplanes, experts rely on a seemingly simple tool to save lives and avoid catastrophe: a checklist.

In his bestselling book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, surgeon Atul Gawande explains that many errors are the result not of lack of knowledge but of a missed step. Checklists provide a cognitive net, he says. “They catch mental flaws inherent in all of us — flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness.” Throughout your pharmacy, you can find opportunities to improve performance with a checklist, from training new employees to improving performance on quality measures, and even in deciding whether to open a new location. From operating rooms to airplanes, experts rely on a seemingly simple tool to save lives and avoid catastrophe: a checklist.

To develop checklists for your pharmacy, follow these steps.

    1. Identify opportunities where checklists can make a difference. Checking a patient’s vital signs are a type of checklist, Gawande says. Do you check the vital signs of your business regularly? See “Give Your Pharmacy a Financial Checkup” for ideas of what figures to examine routinely.
      • Pilots have checklists for takeoff and landing. What should your employees do before opening or closing the store?
      • What are the mission-critical areas in your pharmacy? A checklist can help ensure technicians follow the right workflow in medication synchronization, from checking whether a customer’s prescriptions have changed to asking whether they would like a flu shot or other services when they pick up medications.
      • Checklists also can be useful in making business decisions. Gawande describes how investors use checklists to analyze companies in which they might invest. McKesson has a Pharmacy Self-Assessment Checklist to help owners determine whether they are ready to start a med sync program.
    2. Keep it simple. To be effective, a checklist should be brief and precise. Consider limiting them to between five and nine items. Involve the people who will use the checklist in drafting it, because they can point out where instructions are vague or ambiguous.

      For example, in a “READ-DO” list people check off items as they complete each one, like following a recipe. With a “DO-CONFIRM” checklist, people complete their responsibilities and then the team meets to confirm that every item is complete.

    3. Include communication. Ensuring that people talk and coordinate their efforts is important, so capture that with your checklists. Studies have found that for surgical teams, having each person introduce themselves and mention any concerns about a case leads to better communication during an operation. Nurses were more likely to point out problems and identify solutions. So, be sure your checklists give team members opportunities to raise issues.
    4. Test and refine. Checklists work only if people use them. Before ordering your staff to follow a checklist, discuss what you’re trying to accomplish with it and walk through the steps. You may discover that the list is unnecessarily lengthy, incomplete, or would be better in a different order.

Check out this set of checklists from McKesson as a starting point to customize your own.