Aged care service providers may well be holding their breath while the Royal Commission into Aged Care investigates how our society cares for its aged and infirm, writes Gerard Stevens
But pharmacy has every reason to hold its head up high with its record of achievement.
Millions of medication doses are taken daily by residents of aged care facilities. That there are relatively so few errors causing harm is a testament to the collective commitment, training and systems used to supply and support their safe administration.
I like to use an analogy of the aviation industry – another sector where safety is crucial to outcomes. The aviation industry applies layers of systems and fail-safes to keep planes from crashing; if one system fails, another kicks in to recover the situation. So there are multiple redundancies throughout systems being operated to keep planes in the air.
As a consequence, the aviation industry proudly proclaims that their passengers are safer in the air than travelling by car.
But when we look at another aspect of the aviation industry – baggage handling – where safety isn’t as crucial, the same approach of layering systems to pick up the first sign of risk is not employed. And the outcomes are therefore quite different – the risk of error in baggage handling is much higher and more easily allows the human-error factor to play a role.
Quite rightly, we don’t value the safety of luggage as much as we do passengers.
Managing medication in residential aged care facilities (RACFs) has a similar risk profile as keeping planes in the air – the chance harm or death to a resident because of medication misadventure is only one incident of human error away.
That’s why we apply information technology and design-driven systems. We have to ensure that incidents of human error can be picked up before they cause harm.
I like to call them ‘incidents’, not ‘errors’, before they leave the pharmacy because if our systems pick them up, they won’t result in an error where it counts – with the patient.
Medication packing, management and administration systems are therefore crucial to how we provide medication services to frail and vulnerable aged care residents. They underpin safety throughout all medication dispensing, packing, supply and administration processes.
But just like medication, which isn’t effective when not taken correctly, systems won’t fulfill their capability if they’re not operated optimally.
We have come a long way since the introduction of the Webster-pak which, as the world’s first multi-dose medication system, revolutionised the safe administration of medication in nursing homes, as they were universally called then.
We now have many other systems that support the pharmacist’s maxim of right medication, right dose at the right time to the right patient.
Gerard Stevens AM is founder and Managing Director of Webstercare