Drug error impact revealed

A new report has revealed that medicine-related problems result in 250,000 Australians being hospitalised each year and another 400,000 presenting to emergency departments, with at least half of the cases preventable.

The problems include medication errors, inappropriate use, misadventure and interactions.

The ‘Medicine safety: Take care’ report, developed for the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia by the Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre at the University of South Australia, calculates the annual cost of medication-related problems in Australia at nearly $1.4 billion, equivalent to 15 per cent of total PBS expenditure.

Speaking at the report’s launch in Melbourne this week, PSA National President Dr Chris Freeman said the report revealed the sobering extent of the issue and demonstrated the need for medicine harm to become a national health priority.

“Each year, approximately 250,000 Australians are admitted to hospital as a result of medicine-related problems,” he said. “This is almost four times the annual number of people who are hospitalised as a result of motor vehicle accidents.

“And there’s an additional 400,000 presentations annually to emergency departments due to medicine-related problems.

“At least 50 per cent of medicine-related problems are preventable, but only if we remove the siloed approach to medicines management.

“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.”

Report author Professor Libby Roughead from the Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre said: “As the use of pharmaceuticals increases, so too do rates of medication error, management problems and interactions with other medicines.”

The report highlighted that in 2016-17 two thirds of patients visiting GPs took at least one continual medication, with 11 per cent 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,” Professor Roughead said.

“Four in 10 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.”

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 significantly to reduce the number of adverse events and medication-related hospital admissions.

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