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Children's Hospital Sees Dramatic Drop In Medication Mishaps Under New E-System

Medication errors can cost Australia’s health system up to $1.3 billion a year, but the safety risk has been dramatically reduced according to new research.

Errors can manifest in a number of different ways, including anything from administering an incorrect dose of antibiotics to prescribing medicine that a patient is allergic to or that interacts with other medications being taken.

Macquarie University Professor Johanna Westbrook says medication errors are one of the major safety challenges hospitals face around the world.

These errors can lead to a number of serious health complications including additional hospitalisation, serious injury, disability, and even in rare cases, death.

Image: Supplied.

But with electronic medication management systems now rolled out to almost all hospitals across the country, there's increasing hope that the number of mistakes can be dramatically reduced.

"In adult teaching hospitals we found a 50 per cent reduction in prescribing errors, following the implementation," Westbrook claimed.

Westbrook said electronic medication management allows clinicians to input patient medication orders in a computer system, instead of handwriting them.

The system can also alert doctors and nurses to potential errors before they happen, such as sending alerts when a medication being ordered is one that would interact with another medication the patient is already taking.

Professor Johanna Westbrook. Image: Supplied.

"The whole aim of these systems is we can build in decision support," Westbrook told 10 daily.

"So as clinicians are ordering they can be alerted of all different kinds of errors."

Westbrook is also behind Australia's first study into the effectiveness of the system in children's hospitals, where researchers have also found a reduction in errors across the board.

The study, undertaken at one of the country's largest pediatric hospitals -- The Children's Hospital at Westmead -- found the introduction of electronic medication management systems had resulted in a 23 per cent reduction in prescribing errors.

The study at Westmead is part of a larger overall study being conducted into these systems which involved over 4,500 patients and reviewed more than 35,000 medication orders.

It also found a 20 per cent reduction in potentially severe prescribing errors at Westmead and a whopping 40 per cent reduction in prescribing errors for high-risk drugs -- such as narcotics, insulin and chemotherapy.

The Children's Hospital Westmead. Image: Google Maps

"Not only are we preventing harm and making it safer for children we are saving the health care system money and saving families money," Westbrook said.

Westbrook explained the cost of these errors, which skyrockets to more than a billion dollars nationally every year, is incurred in part by people having to stay in hospital longer or being admitted into hospital as a result of the error.

Errors can also cause ongoing health issues, disability and in rare cases death.

As part of the research the team looked at not only how much the errors cost the health system, but to the families impacted.

According to Westbrook, a survey of over 200 patients at the children's hospital found families were spending an average of $600 for every extra day the child spent in hospital.

These costs to the family stemmed not only from hospital admission but from other factors including time taken off work, childcare arrangements for other children and accommodation.

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Westbrook said there is still "a long way to go" in improving the system's design and effectiveness, including how the system designs can be improved and better incorporated into the work practices of nurses and doctors.

She told 10 daily most developed countries are now starting to look at this technology as crucial to ensuring safer, more efficient and effective care.

"Medicines are becoming more sophisticated," she said.

"We need to have systems which allow us to ensure that new evidence which has been generated by our great scientific researchers is able to be translated into an everyday clinical decision."