Male nurse attending to patient

Need for tech to reduce medication error and improve patient safety

Words provided by Omnicell, editorially reviewed by National Health Executive

Omnicell UK & Ireland, a leading provider of automated healthcare and medication adherence solutions, hosted a health summit on the eve of World Patient Safety Day, to discuss the impact of medication errors on patients and the NHS. The session focussed on the role technology can play in preventing such issues.

The summit, this year held via webinar, comes off the backdrop of the Department of Health and Social Care disclosing that in England 237 million mistakes occur every year at some point in the medication process.  These errors cause serious issues for patient safety, but also place a significant cost burden on an already stretched NHS. The 2019 Patient Safety Strategy published by NHS England and NHS Improvement also found the NHS failed to save 11,000 lives a year due to safety concerns with the cost of extra treatment needed following incidents being over £1bn.

Andrea Jenkyns MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Patient Safety, formally opened the summit and welcomed policy makers, patient groups, industry and workforce representatives.

A number of high-profile panel members answered a series of questions from the audience on solutions and best practice to improve patient safety with the aim of debating and sharing ideas on how to meet challenges and the impact of Covid-19.  These panel members included; 

  • Professor Liz Kay, Former Director of Pharmacy at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Heather Randle, Professional Lead for Medication Management at Royal College of Nursing
  • Clive Flashman, Chief Digital Officer at Patient Safety Learning
  • Ed Platt, Automation Director, Omnicell

Heather Randle, from the RCN, spoke around the importance of being able to use information to prevent medication shortages and stock-outs. Stock-outs can lead to a valuable waste of nursing time as they search for medication and can delay patients getting the right dose, of the right drugs on time.

Heather explained; “In supermarkets they know what stock they have and can make sure there is enough food on the shelves to meet demand. We should be able to do exactly the same thing for medication in hospital. We need to use data to predict what is needed and where so we can avoid stock outs and shortages as this is a risk to patient safety.”

Prof Liz Kay, Former Director of Pharmacy at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, agreed that data was immensely useful, particularly around missed doses. She highlighted; “Linking that data back to the patient story is equally as important. When you link a missed dose back to a patient then it brings it more alive than when you speak about a set of figures.”

She went on to explain how “making it easy to do the right thing” was one of the ways hospitals could minimise the risk of human error causing medication errors. She said; “Having a range of standardised products can help to minimise error alongside supporting the development of the workforce and reviewing their skills mix.”

She also spoke from first-hand experience how Covid-19 had started to result in a cultural change within the NHS when it came to technology. Liz pointed out, “Since COVID I have seen good progress in relation to adopting technology. However, we are still at the start of a long journey and there is still very much more to do.”

Omnicell webinar poster

Clive Flashman, Chief Digital Officer at Patient Safety Learning agreed that the NHS had become more collaborative and familiar with technology since Covid: “We’ve seen a definite increase in tele-health and tele-meds. Covid has forced cultural blockers that were there before to be removed out of necessity. There has been a growth in robotic pharmacy automation to free up staff time from high volume administration tasks to do more complex work that adds value for patients.”

But with the second-wave of Covid-19 still a very real threat he advised: “We don’t want to wait until the next wave to learn a lesson – we need to learn lessons now. Quality Improvement Leads should be focussed on what went right and what went wrong over that period between March and May. They need to be looking at what we can learn from that now and what we can do differently next time. If we don’t do that, we won’t succeed in the second wave where we might fail.”

Ed Platt, Automation Director, Omnicell UK & Ireland, added: “Challenges within the NHS throughout Covid has forced them to embrace technology and drive innovation.

"It’s important that when things go back to normal, we don’t go back to the same status quo. We need to invest in the right infrastructure in hospitals so unnecessary demands and stress are not put on pharmacy, supply managers and nurses so they are free to focus on patient care not administration tasks.

He agreed with the importance of harnessing data to predict demand, adding: “Using data can help to drive decisions before a trend has a negative impact on patients. We can use data to make sure the right dose of the right medication is available at the right time for the right patient. We’ve been working with customers during Covid to use data that already exists to identify shortfalls in medication and potential trends in increased usage so the central pharmacy department are aware and can take early action to meet demand.”

You can watch the webinar on demand here

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