- Disease

‘If medicine harm was a chronic disease it would already be a national health priority.’ – Australian Journal of Pharmacy

About 250,000 Aussies are hospitalised each year due to medicine-related issues, half of which could have been prevented… but how can pharmacists help?

The Medicine Safety: Take Care report, developed for the PSA by the Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre at the University of South Australia, estimates that 250,000 Australians are hospitalised each year because of medication errors, inappropriate use, misadventures and interactions – at least half of which could have been prevented.

A further 400,000 Australians present to emergency departments due to medicine-related problems, says the report.

The authors calculate the annual cost of medication-related problems in Australia at nearly $1.4 billion – equivalent to 15% of the total PBS expenditure.

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

The number of those hospitalised each year for medicine-related harm “is almost four times the annual number of people who are hospitalised as a result of motor vehicle accidents,” says Dr Freeman.

“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 says.

The report also highlights that in 2016-17 two thirds of patients visiting GPs took at least one continual medication, with 11% 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,” says report author Professor Libby Roughead from the Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre.

“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 says.

“As the use of pharmaceuticals increases so too do rates of medication error, management problems and interactions with other medicines.”

PSA argues that increasing the role of pharmacists in medicines management and wherever medicines are used – in residential aged care homes, hospital discharge and in the community – has the potential to significantly reduce the number of adverse events and medication-related hospital admissions.

Dr Freeman’s five changes that could happen right now to reduce medicine harm in Australia:

1. For the Government to declare medicine safety as a national health priority.

2. Pharmacists to take the lead role in medicine safety to ensure healthcare professionals work together to reduce the incidence of errors, misuse and interactions.

3. Have pharmacists embedded wherever medicines are used (including residential aged care facilities, general practice, aboriginal community controlled health centres) to work with prescribers and other healthcare professionals to improve medicines safety.

4. Improve clinical handover at transitions of care, particularly hospital discharge.

5. Encourage all consumers to ask their pharmacist questions about their medicines, and ensure pharmacists have the time to adequately address their concerns.

10 key figures from the report:

  1. 250,000 hospital admissions annually are a result of medication-related problems. The annual cost of these amounts to $1.4 billion.
  2. 400,000 additional presentations to emergency departments are likely to be due to medication-related problems.
  3. 50% of harm caused by medication-related problems is preventable.
  4. 3 in 5 hospital discharge summaries where pharmacists are not involved in their preparation have at least one medication error.
  5. For 1 in 5 people at high risk of readmission, timely provision of the discharge summary did not occur. Only 1 in 5 changes made to the medication regimen during hospital admission were explained in the discharge summary.
  6. Over 90% of patients have at least one medication-related problem post-discharge from hospital.
  7. 98% of residents have at least one medication-related problem. Over half are exposed to at least one potentially inappropriate medicine.
  8. 1 in 5 people are suffering an adverse medication reaction at the time they receive a Home Medicines Review (HMR). On average 4 medication-related problems are detected for each person who has a HMR.
  9. 2 million Australians have experienced an adverse medication event in the last 6 months.
  10. Almost 1 in 4 older people prescribed medicines cleared by the kidneys are prescribed an excessive dose.