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High risk medicines a bitter pill

Medication safety
Photo: Photo: Health Quality & Safety Commission NZ
New Zealand health professionals are being urged to be more vigilant with how high risk medicines are prescribed, dispensed, supplied, stored, administered and taken.

The Health Quality & Safety Commission is shining the spotlight on internationally recognised high risk medicines including anticoagulants, such as warfarin and heparin, opioids such as morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl and methadone, as well as insulin, concentrated potassium injections and oral methotrexate.

The Commission has launched a new campaign, Open for Better Care, targeting health providers, practitioners and patients in a bid to promote ways to reduce medication errors.

High risk medicines are frequently involved in adverse drug events (ADEs) but 60 per cent of ADEs are believed to be preventable, while errors involving high risk medicines are more likely to result in more serious consequences for patients.

Figures show between July 2007 and June 2013, health providers reported 132 medicine-related serious adverse events - of these, 23 related to opioids, 19 to anticoagulants and seven to insulin.

But the Commission believes the figures are just the tip of the iceberg, as some medication-related events go unrecognised and unreported.

Dr John Barnard, the Commission’s clinical lead for medication safety, says while most people taking a medicine experience better health, for some the treatment is harmful.

“No health professional wants to make an error and yet errors happen,” he said.

“There are a surprising number of steps where things can go wrong - this is especially true for warfarin and other blood thinners.”

The campaign is one strand of a range of work streams focused on improving medication safety.

The National Medication Chart and medicine reconciliation are used in most District Health Boards (DHBs).

Four DHBs have introduced electronic medicine reconciliation and another four are implementing electronic prescribing and administration systems.

Dr Barnard said health practitioners across New Zealand are finding ways to improve medication safety with existing resources.

“However, despite New Zealand’s compact size, there is a lot of variability from one DHB to another,” he said.

“Some will have done excellent work with warfarin monitoring but aren’t doing so well with oxycodone prescribing.

“A major role of the Commission then, is to identify and highlight what is working well so that the best practices can be made available as widely as possible.”

Sue Waters, Auckland DHB chief of allied health professions, said the health organisation will do its part to drive the campaign.

“The harm done to individual patients is the major concern but so too is the annual cost of preventable ADEs in New Zealand - this could be as much as $158 million,” she said.

“And clearly, that’s money not being well spent.”

The new campaign will run until March next year.

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords