What is World Patient Safety Day?
World Patient Safety Day is observed annually on the 17th September as part of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) global public health days to raise awareness of medication safety practices. Everyone will take medication as part of a treatment plan for an illness at some point in their lives, meaning that it is the most common medical intervention in healthcare. Despite medications being so widely prescribed and used, unsafe medication practices are one of the leading causes of avoidable patient harm in the world. In fact, figures estimate that unsafe medication practices make up around 50% of preventable harm in medical care and cost healthcare systems around $42 billion annually.
Preventable patient harm can mean anything from injury, a worsening of symptoms, illness, and even death. These potential outcomes of unsafe medical practices defy the foremost principle of medicine — to do no harm.
Significant strides have been made in recent years to improve patient safety. However, healthcare systems are operating in increasingly complex systems due to the development of new technologies, medicines, and treatments. Although numerous strategies have already been designed to reduce the prevalence and seriousness of medication errors, their implementation is varied and often insufficient.
On World Patient Safety Day, governments and stakeholders are urged to prioritise and take swift and coordinated action in critical areas that are frequently linked to preventable patient harm as a result of unsafe medication practices.
What unsafe medication practices lead to poor patient safety outcomes?
Errors caused by unsafe medication practices can happen at different stages of a patient’s treatment plan. Fundamentally, weak medication systems are responsible for inadequate patient safety. Weak medication systems are those that have either ineffective or limited safety protocols in key areas that are associated with patient harm. These areas may include transitions of care, lookalike medications, polypharmacy, as well as high-risk treatments and situations.
An already weak medication system can be further compromised by a variety of external human factors such as fatigue, negligence, and poor environmental conditions. These factors have been exacerbated by the enormous strain placed on healthcare systems around the world due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It has resulted in a stark, yet unpredictable, increase in staff absences and shortages, affecting the prescription, administration, and monitoring of medications.
How can different groups help to improve patient safety?
Improving patient safety insofar as it is related to medication practices requires a large and coordinated mobilisation of stakeholders, governments, and healthcare workers alike. Nevertheless, there are steps that can be taken by different groups from the point of prescription to the administration of medications that can have a positive impact.
Policy-makers and programme managers
- Make sure healthcare systems address pharmaceutical safety at all levels and in all contexts.
- Determine the severity of medication-related injuries in individual countries.
- Ensure every stage of patient care incorporates medication safety protocols.
- Collaborate with stakeholders to establish and implement medication safety programmes.
- Create a mechanism for reporting patient safety incidents, including those related to medication.
Healthcare leaders and facility managers
- Set up a multidisciplinary team whose aim is solely to create procedures to improve a facility’s medication safety.
- Create and implement standard operating practices for administering medications safely, while taking into account the possibility of human error.
- Ensure there is enough staff on hand to handle a patient’s medication requirements.
- Give staff the chance to receive training on how to use medications safely whenever it is requested.
- Create a culture of openness where staff who administer drugs can voice their concerns related to medications without fear of punishment.
- Prioritise action in areas such as transitions of care where medication-related harm occurs the most.
- Maintain up-to-date knowledge of medication practices.
- Communicate clearly about all medication-related matters to members of the clinical team throughout a patient’s treatment course.
- Inform other staff of any incidents involving inadequate medication safety and share any lessons learned.
- Teach new members of staff about safe medication practices.
Patients, families and general public
- Ask your healthcare provider if they have provided all of the information you need to take any new medication safely.
- Keep a list of all of your prescriptions, including herbal remedies, and share it with your healthcare provider.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions and advice when taking any medications.
- Learn about the potential side effects that your medications can cause.
- Store your medications as recommended and check the expiration date regularly.
- Inform your healthcare provider of any concerns you have about your medications as soon as possible.