Experts recommend 10 ways to prevent medicine-related harm

A group of Australia’s leading medicine safety experts is calling for action to reduce medicine-related harms.

A group of Australia’s leading medicine safety experts is calling for action to reduce avoidable deaths, hospitalisations and quality-of-life impacts caused by unsafe medicine use.

In a new report released this week, a consortium comprising the Consumers Health Forum of Australia, PSA, the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia, NPS MedicineWise and academic partners Monash University and University of Sydney set out 10 recommendations to help prevent medicine-related harm. 

This includes whole-of-health system changes, including:

  • Development of clear medicine safety targets, benchmarks and improved clinical governance in primary care and aged care
  • Implementation of national medicine reporting systems to capture and respond to medicine errors, near misses, adverse reactions to medicines and health literacy gaps
  • Fast-tracking of Australia’s digital health medicine safety initiatives.

The report argues that tackling problems in aged care should be the first priority, particularly psychotropic medicines, including antipsychotics and benzodiazepines, opioid analgesics and inappropriate polypharmacy.

There should also be a focus on the populations most at risk of medicine-related harm, such as people who have recently left hospital, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and people living with disability and mental ill-health. 

‘Pharmacists stand ready to make these whole-of-health system changes which are needed to dramatically reduce medicine-related harm.’

The recommendations are a response to medicine safety and the quality use of medicines being declared Australia’s 10th National Health Priority Area in 2019.

They come ahead of the long-awaited review of Australia’s National Medicines Policy, set to begin next month.

The PSA National President Associate Professor Chris Freeman said medicine safety should be a priority for everyone and that there was no better time to tackle the issue.

‘Pharmacists, as medicine experts, stand ready with Government to make these whole-of-health system changes which are needed to dramatically reduce medicine-related harm,’ A/Prof Freeman said.

‘Given the findings by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, it is critical that we focus our initial efforts in aged care and then quickly look to curbing harm from high-risk scenarios, such as those prescribed antipsychotics, opioids or sleeping tablets and those prescribed multiple inappropriate medicines.’

Forum findings

The report recommendations came out of a day-long forum held by the consortium, which brought together a range of stakeholders to identify key changes needed to improve medicine safety and the quality use of medicines.

Despite patient-centred care being an objective of the country’s health systems for decades, consumers at the forum said the system, and the care they are provided, is clunky, difficult to navigate and often difficult to understand. 

‘Consumers have lived experience with their medicines, but our health system doesn’t capture this well,’ Consumers Health Forum of Australia CEO Leanne Wells said.

‘It is only by having good systems to hear, prioritise and respond to their experiences that we will reduce harm and shift to genuinely consumer-centred care.’

Real-life examples presented to delegates also made it clear that change was needed.

For example, one consumer reported that his partner, who was on the kidney transplant list, was in hospital for a tooth abscess and was taken off a number of his transplant medicines.

‘He kept getting cancelled for surgery because he was listed as non-urgent because of the tooth abscess, but he really should have been listed as urgent as the longer he was off his medication the more his kidney was being compromised,’ the consumer said.

A/Prof Freeman thanked the consortium partners and delegates who contributed to the report and helped to form the recommendations. 

‘Achieving medicine safety is focused on one thing: reducing preventable harm caused by medicines,’ he said.

‘The time for continued action is now.’

Find the full report here.