Common mistakes taking medicines can be avoided: Deakin researcher

A Deakin University medicines safety expert has warned Australians need to arm themselves with better information about risks associated with various medications when taking them.

Written by Elise Snashall-Woodhams

Professor Elizabeth Manias, a nurse and pharmacist who works within Deakin’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and the Institute for Health Transformation said overdosing or under‐dosing, mistakes in administration techniques, prescription errors, and inattention to changes in signs and symptoms were common errors.

“It’s important for consumers to know what medicines they’re taking and why,” Professor Manias said.

She has offered several key tips for consumers to help avoid errors in line with Be Medicinewise Week (19 to 25 August), an annual event from independent not-for-profit NPS MedicineWise, which is supported by the Australian Government’s Department of Health.

“Managing medicines is a shared responsibly between health professionals and consumers. Health professionals play a vital role in helping consumers to understand the language of medicines, and consumers also have a responsibility to ensure they understand the instructions they’ve been given, and that they’re keeping track of their medicines.”

Professor Manias said those starting a new medicine – whether it’s a prescription medicine or a non-prescription medicine such as a vitamin supplement or cold and flu preparation – should always check with their health professional beforehand.

“People need to ask questions about their medicines and always seek information from a trusted source,” she said.

“If consumers are starting something new, they should ask the health professional prescribing it if they really need to be taking that medicine; what the risks are; whether there are simpler or safer options available; and how much it will cost.”

Professor Manias’ research has shown that medicines errors occur with consumers of various backgrounds, but those at major risk are consumers who lack social supports, experience language difficulties, come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and those such as children and older people.

“Children are at high risk of experiencing medicines errors. They’re very vulnerable because of their limited ability to communicate, especially those who are preverbal and have difficulties expressing their needs or concerns,” she said.

“At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve found adults aged 85 and older are also at risk of potentially inappropriate medicines and prescribing omissions, particularly during transitions of care. More attention needs to be given within this age group to actively de-prescribing medicines that aren’t beneficial, and to starting medicines that would be advantageous.”

Professor Manias said one of the best ways of avoiding medicines errors was for consumers and family members to play a greater role in the medicines management process.

“A recent study we conducted found that the more involved patients and family members were in the medicines management process, the more likely they were to notice medicines errors that could potentially cause harm,” she said.