September 15, 2020

We all know that when medication is prescribed, dispensed and administered correctly it can dramatically improve the quality of patients’ lives. But equally, if something breaks down in that process - between the prescription being written and the patient taking the drug - then medication has the potential to do great harm.

A report published last month by the International Federation of Pharmacists (FIP), stated “unsafe medication practices contributing to medication errors was the single most important preventable factor jeopardising patient safety”. Up to 50% of all reported patient safety incidents are estimated to be related to medication. The report, “Pharmacists Role in Medication Without Harm”, went on to state that it is no surprise “patient safety has become a global emergency with many nations putting the issue on their national health priority agendas”.

It highlighted how approximately 6% of hospitalised patients experience an adverse drug event (ADE) during their hospital stay. It is estimated that in England alone, there are around 237 million medication errors annually. In hospitals in the United States, over 700,000 emergency department visits and 120,000 hospitalisations result from ADEs. These error rates, it says, are comparable to those in other EU countries. It also found the global costs associated with medication errors is a staggering 42 Billion USD each year.

The FIP report was a call to action for pharmacists across the globe, providing guidance on what pharmacists can and should do to prevent medication errors within community and hospital settings. But while pharmacists have a hugely influential role to play, the responsibility does not sit with them alone. We all have a part to play in reducing medication errors across healthcare systems around the world – from healthcare leaders and staff to patients and from politicians and policy makers to private companies. On World Patient Safety Day it’s vital that we all come together as an industry to increase public awareness of such issues and harness engagement so that together we can take action to prevent these errors going forward.

The objective of this year’s World Patient Safety Day is to raise global awareness about the importance of health worker safety as a prerequisite to patient safety. So it’s worth remembering that behind each medication error statistic is a patient who can experience harm far greater than any financial burden and a human cost to each hard-working healthcare professional implicated in medication errors – those who entered a profession specifically to provide care not cause harm.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only sought to highlight the huge challenges and risks healthcare workers face globally each and every day. Working in such stressful environments makes health workers more prone to errors which can lead to patient harm.

At Omnicell we feel strongly about patient safety and our mission is to be the clinician’s most trusted partner for medication management. Our aim is to deliver the most compelling automation and services that accelerate pharmacy perfection. Our Autonomous Pharmacy vision is about creating an environment where pharmacists and nurses spend 100% of their time on patient focused care – no more sorting, picking, checking, reconciling, transporting or other error-prone manual tasks or workflows. Technology can provide over stretched health care workers with a valuable safety net to reduce the risk of medication errors as well as providing them with more time for face to face patient care – often the reason they entered the profession in the first place.

Automation in healthcare is growing due to the rapid rate of technological advancements and it is one approach to eliminating the human factors that contribute to medication safety incidents. However, a number of factors are preventing such technology being adopted as quickly as it could be. Now is the time for us all to come together to accelerate the use of technology within pharmacy.

As the report by FIP states, in hospital settings ward-based computerised automated dispensing systems have been shown to reduce error rates and costs. Equally it states in a community pharmacy setting, automated dispensing systems have reduced the manual dispensing workload and have enabled community pharmacists to undertake greater clinical roles.

But automation alone is not the answer. The impact such technology has on patient safety depends on how well it is introduced and integrated into hospital and community pharmacy workflows. A partnership approach is required or even a service as a solution model. Taking this approach helps to ensure automation is integrated in a way that meets the needs of the individual healthcare environment, ensuring their high standards are met.

When implemented in this way then technology can:

  • Prevent miscommunication between physicians, pharmacists and nurses around a patient’s medication requirements.
  • Prevent the risk of picking errors and look-a-like, sound-a-like errors.
  • Provide up-to-date, accurate, accessible and usable medication information to all healthcare staff.
  • Ensure medicines are stored appropriately and safely.
  • Free-up front line staff from administrative tasks so they have more time for face to face patient care.
  • Provide a safety net for overstretched and often under-resourced staff.

Patient safety and medication safety is everybody’s responsibility and it is an issue we all need to address now. We welcome the opportunity to continue to work with pharmacists, nurses and other healthcare leaders to support them in making medication errors a thing of the past and in realising the vision of an Autonomous Pharmacy.

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