The effects of mental workload on medicines safety in a community pharmacy setting

  • Hannah Family

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Background: Concern has been raised that the workload of community pharmacists (CPs) is linked to the occurrence of dispensing errors (DEs). One aspect of workload that has not yet been measured in this setting, but has been linked to errors in other industries, is mental workload (MWL).Aims: (1) Measure the relationship between MWL and DEs during a routine pharmacy task, the final accuracy check, which research suggests is critical to DE prevention. (2) Quantify the role that expertise plays in this relationship. (3) Explore CPs and pharmacy students’ experiences of MWL and DEs.Methods: A mixed methods approach was taken and three studies were conducted. In study one, CPs (n=104) and students (n=93) checked dispensed items for DEs. Participants took part in one of four conditions (distraction, no distraction, dual-task or single-task) and their DE detection and MWL was measured. Study two was a diary study of CPs’ (n=40) MWL during a day in their “real-life” practice. Study three presented an interpretative phenomenological analysis of CPs’ (n=14) and students’ (n=15) experiences of MWL and DEs. Main findings: Study one found that high MWL was related to reduced DE detection, but only for students, confirming the important role of expertise. Distractions did not affect DE detection but was linked to increased MWL. Study 2 highlighted specific times of the day when CPs’ MWL was exceptionally high. Study 3 found several factors which increased MWL, including the lack of control CP’s had over their workload, difficulties communicating with prescribers and targets.Conclusions: MWL has been found to be a useful tool for measuring the impact of workload on pharmacy safety. The findings are linked to current work design and human factors theory and suggestions are made for how CPs’ work could be redesigned to reduce their MWL and improve safety.
Date of Award11 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJane Sutton (Supervisor) & Marjorie Weiss (Supervisor)


  • Mental Workload
  • Medicines Safety
  • Human Error
  • Dispensing Errors
  • community pharmacy

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