Medication safety is everyone's business
Medicines are a pillar of health care, used across all settings from cutting-edge trial immunotherapies that harness the body’s own immune system to off-the-shelf tablets that treat common conditions like hay fever or migraine.
A downside of this ubiquity is that medicines can quickly cause harm for many reasons, including interactions with other medicines and personal diet choices, causing damage through over- or underuse, or simply being out of date.
With the use of medication being the most common healthcare intervention, and more than 9 million Australians taking a prescribed medication every day, the challenge of upholding safety has never been more important.
A 2019 report highlighted that 1.2 million Australians have experienced an adverse medication event in the last six months and 250,000 hospital admissions annually are a result of medication-related problems, costing Australians $1.4 billion each year. The transition of care from hospital back into the community or aged care remains a known challenge, as identified by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
Bold steps to confront the challenge have been taken, with Health Minister Greg Hunt announcing Medicine Safety and Quality Use of Medicines as Australia’s tenth National Health Priority Area one year ago.
As medication experts, hospital pharmacists lead and facilitate the safe and high-quality use of medications at the most critical stages of the care journey, when Australians are at increased risk of adverse effects and require the closest attention. In these centres of healthcare excellence, the most unwell Australians are treated, and the most complex and high-risk medications are used.
Hospital pharmacists are central to the collective effort to improve care outcomes through a stronger focus on medication safety in Australia. The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia (SHPA)’s Medication Safety Position Statement supports this crucial endeavour, advocating that:
- Medications can be harmful if not used appropriately, therefore medication safety is core business for all health service organisations.
- Consumers are entitled to safe, effective and timely medication management services while they are undergoing medical treatment.
- As pharmacists are experts in medication management, they should be integrated into the multidisciplinary healthcare team, working in partnership with health practitioners and consumers, to lead, facilitate and promote high standards of safe and timely prescribing, dispensing, administration and monitoring of medications, ensuring safe and optimal medication use for all Australians.
So what does this look like in practice?
Working with our members at the coalface, four priorities have been identified by SHPA’s Medication Safety Specialty Practice Leadership Committee to achieve better patient health outcomes to mitigate the risks of medication-related harms:
- Expansion of Partnered Pharmacist Medication Charting (PPMC) to all Australian hospitals.
- Use of Interim Medication Charts in key transitions of care settings.
- Seven-day, extended-hours access to clinical pharmacy services in all health settings where medications are being used.
- Pharmacist-led medication safety programs in all Australian hospitals.
Each of these innovations unlocks the potential of hospital pharmacists as members of the multidisciplinary care team, while keeping the safety of the patient centred. They range from small modifications to ‘business as usual’ to the significant revision of traditional practice, all based on the expertise of members, and evidence of the value of hospital pharmacy services. Many are already growing in prevalence, implemented across Australia.
While the challenge is significant, research shows approximately 50% of all medication-related harm is preventable and the appropriate use of medications fundamentally contributes to significant health gains.
A coordinated national approach that identifies and promotes best practice models and measures progress towards reducing medication-related harm has the potential to improve the health of Australians and create savings across the healthcare system.
Medication safety is everyone’s business but, with greater latitude to lead evidence-based innovations that improve the safety of patient care, hospital pharmacists can lead the way.
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