Fundamentals of Medication Safety

Medications are the most common treatment used in healthcare.  Every year in Australia the amount of prescriptions dispensed increases. On an average day, over 600,000 subsidised prescriptions are dispensed (AIHW). Errors associated with medication are of particular concern because some can be preventable. 

  • In hospitals, data suggests that between 2 to 3 percent of all hospital admissions are related to problems with medicines which may originate in the community or within the hospital.
  • In the community, 10% of patients seeing a general practitioner experienced an adverse medication event in the previous six months. 11 to 12 percent of these adverse events were considered severe and approximately 5 percent required hospitalisation (Literature Review of Medication Safety in Australia).

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Prescribing, dispensing and administering medicine is a complex cycle that conceals a significant number of risks.  As with other safety issues, medication errors can arise from human errors and/or system failures.  They can result from problems in practice, products, procedures or systems. As medical indemnity insurance providers in Australia, we understand the risks involved with prescribing medications. That is why we provide:

  • medical malpractice insurance 
  • GP medical indemnity insurance
  • medical indemnity insurance 
  • doctors indemnity insurance 
  • medical practice insurance 
  • and more

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Factors In Medication Errors

Factors, such as training deficiencies, undue time pressure and poor perception of risk can contribute to medication errors. The root causes of these errors vary widely, resulting from simple storage issues (e.g. storing different medicines with similar packaging in the same area) through to interruptions and more complex communication breakdowns.

Based on issues identified in the Literature Review of Medication Safety in Australia the following suggestions to minimise risks in medication management warrant consideration:

In Hospitals:

  • On Admission
    • Accuracy in reconciliation of medications and allergy documentation.
  • Prescribing
    • Ensure medication details are legible – dosage, route, timing, your signature.
    • Ensure correct use of abbreviations – the MIMS guide for safer prescribing has information on this topic – consider a ‘do not use’ list for hazardous abbreviations
  • Administration
    • Ensure no interruptions.
  • Discharge summaries
    • Ensure dosage changes, new medications and ceased medications are clearly communicated.
  • Transitions of Care
    • Pay particular attention to frequency of administration and clearly state when you want the initial dose given.   

In General Practice:

  • Utilise pharmacists for assistance with reviewing medications. 
  • Effective communication about medications is imperative when a patient is  transitioning between hospital and community. This is especially the case for patients who are older, non English speaking or have mental health problems.

Mitigating Prescription Risk

While the causes of medication errors are complex and varied, some incidents are avoidable. There are a number of risk management strategies available to address some of the contributing factors – the simplest is to facilitate and encourage patient participation in the safe use of medicine. 

Tego Insurance offers medical indemnity insurance, doctors indemnity insurance, gp medical indemnity insurance, medical practice insurance, medical malpractice insurance and more. We have a profound understanding of the Australian medical profession and the ever-changing healthcare industry. It’s this expertise that allows us to provide leading cover with more choice, innovation and greater flexibility. Contact us to find out more.

This publication is general in nature and is not comprehensive or constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal, medical or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practice proper clinical decision making with regard to individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgment or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Tego Insurance Pty Ltd is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss su­ffered in connection with the use of this information.