Acute need for pharmacy support in aged care: study

Thursday, 05 May, 2022

Acute need for pharmacy support in aged care: study

Medicines are the most common treatments used in health care, especially for older people. But when they’re not used correctly, they can cause serious and sometimes fatal outcomes.

Globally, the cost of medication-related harm exceeds $40 billion every year with evidence reporting that between 5% and 20% of aged-care residents experience an adverse medicine event every month. More than half of this harm is considered preventable.

The federal government recently announced funding for on-site pharmacists to improve medication management in government-funded aged-care facilities, commencing in January 2023.

Researchers from the University of South Australia recently worked with 248 aged-care residents across 39 aged-care facilities in South Australia and Tasmania to assess the effectiveness of a pharmacist-led intervention.

Their study, funded by the Department of Health, found that regular visits from pharmacists to aged-care residents can reduce problems due to medicines and improve health outcomes.

Over 12 months, pharmacists met with residents every eight weeks to record any new illnesses or conditions and to monitor any adverse effects or symptoms. They also reviewed participants’ medicines and monitored cognitive and physical health.

At each visit, pharmacists found 60% of residents had problems with their medicines. They made 309 recommendations to change residents’ medications or monitor their medications with a view to change; and, for almost two-thirds of the population, recommended reduced medicine use.

Importantly, the study showed a significant change in participants’ cognition scores, with those monitored by pharmacists less likely to experience negative effects.

Lead researcher UniSA Professor Libby Roughead says the research highlights an acute need for additional pharmaceutical support within the aged-care sector.

“Medicines are the most prescribed health intervention for older people, yet they’re also the catalyst for concern for many aged-care residents,” Roughead said.

“People living in aged-care homes rely on the support and care they receive, yet previously, residents have only received a medication review every two years or earlier if required.

“Our research highlights the need for personalised and continuing support by pharmacists more frequently.”

Roughead welcomed the government funding for onsite pharmacists. It is an essential step forward and the move should encompass holistic pharmaceutical support, with pharmacists focused on efforts to reduce harms from medicines, she said.

“It’s important to realise that the new onsite pharmacists will not only need to monitor and review medications, but also be able to recognise the early onset of medicine-induced deterioration, such as changes in a person’s cognition or activity, so as to prevent harms such as injurious falls or delirium.

“More comprehensive support will not only avoid the many medicine-induced health issues currently experienced by aged-care residents but may also help in preventing frailty and declining cognition.”

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