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Drugs in the Medical Office


Medications are usually dispensed and administered by trained healthcare professionals who understand the basic concept and principals of pharmacology and medication administration.

Safekeeping of Medications:

All medications must be kept out of the public's sight and reach within the medical office. One central area, such as a closed medicine closet accessible to medical office staff only, provides the best security for medications, rather than keeping a medicine cabinet in every patient examination room.

REMEMBER: Drugs are chemical compounds, substances, or mixtures of substances that are used for therapeutic, prophylactic, or diagnostic purposes. Most medical assistants learn about the different types and dosages at local medical assisting vocational training programs.

Healthcare professionals in a physician’s office, hospital, clinic, pharmacy, or any other setting may also be responsible for ordering, storing, discarding, preparing, administering, and dispensing medications and medication samples. Therefore they must have a solid understanding of medications and their actions, potential uses and abuses, dosages and side effects in order to provide quality services and competent patient care.

Even the simplest medications, such as an aspirin, or antacid tablet must not be given out to patients without prior authorization from the physician! Often visiting patients ask for drug samples. Each time someone receives a sample of a drug it should be documented in their patient record, indicating the name of the drug, who authorized its dispensal, and that the patient was informed about the sample drug's action, side-effects, and how to take it. The entry must be followed by the medical assistant's (or healthcare professional's) initials.

See also! Test your knowledge:
  Take the Medications Quiz!

Dispensing Medications in the Medical Office:

Dispensing medications involves handing the dose to the patient, and the medical assistant is present and observes the patient taking the medication on his or her own. When dispensing medications, it should be poured into the bottle cap or a cup, rather than into the hand to keep it clean, and avoid transferring microorganisms from the hand to the medication.

Again, healthcare professionals do not “give,” but dispense medications! Medical assistants only dispense medications as ordered by the supervising physician. Any medications dispensed or refilled is immediately documented into the patient’s chart. The entry should indicate that the authorization is “per Dr. NAME”, dated, and initialed.

Always repeat back a verbal order and when in doubt, always question the order! Know that legally, the person dispensing and administering a medication is liable if an error occurs, even if the dosage was written incorrectly by the physician!

Medication Orders:

Medication orders include: Patient name, date and time of order, name of the drug, dosage, route of administration, time or frequency, along with special instructions about medication. Also it must have the ordering physician's signature. All medication orders must be legible and only standard abbreviations and symbols should be used. If any of the seven components of a medication order are missing or seem incorrect, don’t assume – clarify the order!

Dispensing Drug Samples:

Pharmacists, nurses, or medial assistants NEVER make their own decisions regarding handing out any medications or samples to patients should they ask for them (and they WILL ask!) without first consulting the physician and checking the patient’s records! Needless to say, everything must also be charted! Be aware of the expiration date on the sample packages, as some may be stored for long periods in a physician's office or clinic before use.

Problems with medication samples begin when they are dispensed from the office without clear instructions for use. Errors of all types have occurred when patients are unclear about the use of sample medications. To be on the safe side, make sure that when you dispense a sample there is a label attached which clearly indicates:

  • Patient 
  • Medication 
  • Dosage 
  • Frequency or time 
  • Route 
  • Form, such as suspension, elixir, tablets, etc. 
  • Documentation 

We encourage all medical assistants, practicing or not, to continuously learn and strive to become better at what they do.

medical assistant writesRemember! Remember: Your professional and personal development never ends! Being a successful medical assistant means life long learning. Continuous striving for excellence in performance, knowledge, and skills betters your chances of getting the most out of your career! Those who know their job best are always hired first, and salaries are ever increasing for those with high standards.

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