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Medications misadventure is a $1.4 billion problem – and how digital health can help

Published 12 February 2019

My Health Record can play an important role in facilitating pharmacists to reduce the number of medication-related hospital admissions and adverse medication events in Australia.

The Medicine Safety: Take Care Report, developed for the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia by the Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre at the University of South Australia, calculates the annual cost of medication-related problems in Australia at nearly $1.4 billion – equivalent to 15 per cent of total PBS expenditure.

It says that discharge summaries available in My Health Record will provide pharmacists another opportunity to proactively prevent and resolve medication-related problems post discharge.

“Use of My Health Record will enable pharmacists to proactively monitor dosages according to renal function, potentially reducing medication-related hospital admissions.”

The Report found that 250,000 Australians are hospitalised each year, with another 400,000 presenting to emergency departments, as a result of medication errors, inappropriate use, misadventure and interactions – at least half of which could have been prevented.

Report author, Professor Libby Roughead from the Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre said, “As the use of pharmaceuticals increases so too do rates of medication error, management problems and interactions with other medicines.”

The report highlighted that in 2016-17 two thirds of patients visiting GPs took at least one continual medication, with 11 per cent experiencing adverse medication events in the previous six months. “This equates to almost 1.2 million Australian experiencing an adverse medication event in the past six months,” she said.

“Four-in-ten older Australians have been prescribed at least one potentially inappropriate medicine, confirming the need for greater checks and balances in the way medicines are prescribed, dispensed and monitored,” she said.

PSA National President Dr Chris Freeman says the report has revealed the sobering extent of the issue and demonstrated the need for medicine harm to become a national health priority.

“At least 50 per cent of medicine-related problems are preventable, but only if we remove the siloed approach to medicines management.

“If medicine harm was a chronic disease it would already be a national health priority. This report highlights that governments, pharmacists and other health professionals need to work together to reduce the alarming incidence of medication errors, misadventure, misuse and interactions,” he said.

The report’s findings focus on four areas where medication-related problems are rife:

Inappropriate medicine use in residential aged care

  • 98 per cent of people living in aged care facilities have at least one medication-related problem identified at review, and up to 80 per cent are prescribed potentially inappropriate medicine.
  • 17 per cent of unplanned hospital admissions by people living in aged-care facilities are caused by an inappropriate medicine.

Hospital discharge is a missed opportunity

  • More than 90 per cent of people have at least one medication-related problem post-discharge from hospital.
  • At least one medication error was identified in 60 per cent of hospital discharge summaries where a pharmacist was not involved in its preparation.
  • Only one-in-five changes made to the medication regimen during hospital admission were explained in the discharge summary.

Impaired kidney function is increasingly common in older people

  • One-in-four older people treated with medicines that rely on the kidneys to clear the body are prescribed doses considered excessive.
  • Among people with poor kidney function, at the time of their admission to hospital 16 per cent were receiving a medicine that should not have been prescribed and 21 per cent had been prescribed an inappropriate dose.

Multiple medicine use spells danger

  • The use of multiple medicines was responsible for 70 per cent of cases where people are admitted to hospital for adverse drug reactions.

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