Bid to halve meds errors

Australian Government Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy and ACSQHC Professor Villis Marshall at the launch.

The WHO aims to reduce medication errors by 50% worldwide within five years 

A new global initiative for error reduction was launched in Brisbane today, as part of a push by the World Health Organization to save lives and reduce the harm caused by medication mix-ups.

The WHO’s third Global Patient Safety Challenge, ‘Medication Without Harm’, aims to help countries strengthen their systems for preventing medication errors.

These errors are estimated to cost US$42 billion annually, with people in low-income countries disproportionately affected

In Australia, previous estimates indicate between 2% and 3% of all Australian hospital admissions are medication-related, suggesting that at least 230,000 admissions annually in this country are caused by patients a wrong dose or the wrong medicine – with an estimated annual cost of at least $1.2 billion.

Improving medication safety is a key area of focus for the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, which facilitated today’s WHO regional campaign launch with the Australian Government Department of Health.

The campaign launch for the WHO’s Western Pacific region took place today at the Brisbane Convention Centre by the WHO’s regional director, Dr Shin Young-soo.

Commission CEO Adjunct Professor Debora Picone said unsafe medication practices and medication errors are a leading cause of injury and avoidable harm in health care systems across the world.

“Some people in our community with poorer health are taking four or more different medicines at once, sometimes under the supervision of a number of GPs, hospitals and specialists,” Professor Picone said.

“In addition, these people often need to take medicines that are regarded as being higher risk, which can be because their narrow therapeutic range makes an unintended overdose more likely.

“Another scenario in which mistakes can happen is in the transitions of care, when patients move between clinicians, hospitals or other health providers and have their prescriptions adjusted.”

The WHO campaign aims to help countries joining the campaign to make improvements in each stage of the medication process, including prescribing, dispensing, administering, monitoring and use. It aims to improve patient understanding of the medicines they are taking, and specifically targets ‘polypharmacy’, which refers to the routine use of four or more medicines at the same time.

Jan Donovan, a health consumer advocate from Melbourne, said medication mishap was one of the greatest concerns for patients, as the consequences of mistakes could be high.

“Older people are more likely to be taking multiple medications, and it remains easier than we would like for mistakes to happen at any point – including in the doctor’s rooms, in the pharmacy or in the patient’s own home,” she said.

Professor Lloyd Sansom, an advisor to the Australian Government who led development of Australia’s National Medicines Policy, said the Quality Use of Medicines was “a fundamental component of our National Medicines Policy” and a range of measures to address medication safety were in place.


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