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Improving medication safety, a research priority

Discovering new pharmaceuticals is an important part of medical research, however there is also an increasing need for experts to apply a close-up lens on the existing medications people take and how their bodies react to them.

Studies by the University of Tasmania’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology show more than 15 per cent of overnight hospital admissions in Tasmania’s over 65’s to be related to adverse drug reactions (ADRs) to prescribed medications, taken at recommended doses.

ADRs can range from mild side-effects such as a headache, to severe effects resulting in admission to hospital or even death.

Recent national statistics show 250,000 hospital admissions a year are directly related to medicines, costing the health system $1.4 billion annually.

"It is clear that the existing approaches to quality use of medicine and medication safety are not enough," University of Tasmania Professor of Pharmacy Practice Luke Bereznicki said.

The vast majority of ADR admissions are preventable, so we need to be able to identify patients who are at risk and intervene effectively to reduce this massive burden on the health system and improve people’s well-being.

Professor Luke Bereznicki

The increase in chronic disease, the use of long-term and multiple medications, an aging population, and a limited health budget, all add to the challenge.

However, Professor Bereznicki said some progress was being made including the recent government recognition of medicine safety as National Health Priority Area.

Increasing clinical pharmacist activities in aged care and hospital settings was also showing promising results.

“Enhancing the role of pharmacists in emergency departments, for example, has reduced the incidence of in-hospital medication related problems, the length of stay and health system costs,” Professor Bereznicki said.

The School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology focusses research activity and teaching on improving medication safety in the community with a fully-embedded honours program within its Bachelor of Pharmacy program to ensure graduates are capable of conducting workplace medication safety/quality improvement projects, throughout their careers.       

Our researchers are also highly active and international leaders in this field, working with local and national partners to identify patients at high risk of medication-related harm and develop strategies to improve patient outcomes.

Professor Luke Bereznicki

Researchers, in partnership with the Royal Hobart Hospital, are currently evaluating a new model of emergency department care where pharmacists document a patient’s medication history, develop a shared treatment plan with medical staff, chart medications and flag potential issues to reduce the risk medication-related adverse events.

Researchers are also involved in an ongoing trial to identify the extent and predictors of preventable admissions related to adverse drug reactions (ADRs) in Tasmanian hospitals.  Results so far have included the development of a new risk prediction tool used by health professionals to identify elderly people at higher risk of ADRs. 

In aged care, a recent national collaboration has seen the team investigating a new model of pharmacist intervention in aged care homes to reduce medication-induced deterioration and adverse reactions.     

"While quantifying the extent of medication-related harm is important, it is not enough – more action is needed," Professor Bereznicki said.