In Australia, there are 250,000 hospital admissions every year resulting from medicine problems and, according to the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA), around half of these admissions are preventable.
Alongside the personal cost to individuals and families, $1.4 billion is lost annually to the issue.
PSA Senior Pharmacist, Peter Guthrey expects this figure to rise in the years ahead, as our national population ages.
He believes technology could help, but argues that a rethink on how it is utilised, marketed and managed is needed to unlock its safety potential.
“As Australians get older and rates of chronic disease increase, our health needs will inevitably become more complex – so technology will have a central role in managing healthcare interactions more safely,” said Mr Guthrey.
“That said, digital systems aren’t a magic pudding. Decades after computers entered health care we still have an unacceptable level of errors. I think we need to be more focused on how we, as humans, interact with technology and further develop systems to improve safety.”
Ahead of the Medicine Safety & Efficiency Conference, Mr Guthrey gives four suggestions on how technology could be better utilised to improve medicine safety.
#1 – Instil patient confidence through improved messaging
Mr Guthrey believes patients are often experts in their own care, but says many are still disempowered to take ownership of their care through technologies like My Health Record.
He says much of the early messaging around My Health Record didn’t effectively communicate its purpose and how it facilitates safer health care. This negatively affected uptake.
“When My Health Record first came out, the discussions were rightly focussed on privacy and building trust. Beyond that, the conversation around how it could benefit individuals didn’t really continue.
“The net result of that is that, ten years on, we still have a lot of work to do to build active engagement – and that engagement is really important, because patient demand will ultimately drive uptake.”
Work is also needed to dispel myths surrounding the technology, he argued.
“Most patients assume we already have a much greater level of access to records from their other healthcare providers than we actually do – and they expect us to use this to provide the right care for them.
“We need to take time to explain to patients how the use of electronic systems supports their care. When we do, they are usually quite excited about it.”
#2 – Educate practitioners on new technology-related risks
At the same time, messaging around technology-related safety risks needs to be transparent, Mr Guthrey says.
“Yes, electronic prescriptions eliminate handwriting errors. But they bring new risks – like selecting the wrong medicine option from a drop down menu and other, more subtle examples.
“Everyone needs to have their eyes wide open to the benefits and risks of new technologies and we need to get better at identifying where information from a system requires double checking from a staff member.
“Humans place confidence in information presented to them in print and on screens – but without fully understanding its source, context and limitations, we may cause unintended harm.”
While discussing technology-related risks may seem at odds with messaging around safety benefits, Mr Guthrey is confident this won’t negatively affect confidence or uptake of new technologies.
“I don’t believe alerting people to technology risks will cause damage. Health professionals are very motivated to learn about the systems they use and better support patient safety; and both health care workers and consumers respond really well to transparency,” he said.
#3 – Upskilling the workforce
Mr Guthrey says technology is only a safer option when it is used correctly – and this requires quality education, time and resourcing.
He believes healthcare providers should explore a range of training options to improve outcomes.
‘Humans learn by first-hand experience, i.e. using and exploring new systems. But to effectively upskill the workforce we also need more structured options, such as short training activities, access to clinical champions and feedback loops,” he said.
#4 – Integrating systems
My Health Record is central in the push towards safer medicine usage, but Mr Guthrey says the technology needs to be more widely integrated with other health technologies to fully realise its benefits.
“Patients expect their health team to communicate effectively – and both integrated systems and a central record are needed to achieve this.
“Ideally, My Health Record is supposed to contain information from every episode of care, across every provider that patient has visited – but without integration this rarely happens.”
While Australia has the shared clinical terminology and standards required for building interoperability, systems need to be kept up to date so that they can work together and contribute to My Health Record.
To achieve this, Mr Guthrey believes capital and incentives might help.
“We need to incentivise providers, invest more in the software and hardware we use, and better support the users of these systems,” he concluded.
Peter Guthrey is a Senior Pharmacist at the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. Hear more expert tips from him at this year’s Medicine Safety & Efficiency Conference – one of three conferences to take place at Connect Virtual Care.
One pass for Connect Virtual Care gives delegates access to the National Telehealth Conference, the Healthcare Cyber Security Conference, and the Medication Safety & Efficiency Conference.
This year’s event will be held 27-28 April at the Hilton Sydney.
Learn more and register your place here.