World Patient Safety Day: Underreported medication errors cause danger to patients – Official

Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, on Monday, said low reporting of medication errors is a major issue threatening patient safety in the country.

Mr Ehanire spoke during a briefing to commemorate the 2022 World Patient Safety Day. He said a high incidence of major medication errors related to the prescription of incorrect antiretroviral therapy (ART), protocols, and potential drug-drug interaction in Nigeria’s HIV treatment programme, has been reported in the past.

He pointed out that a study conducted by Ogunleye et al on medication errors amongst health care professionals in 10 tertiary hospitals across the country shows that 35.5 per cent of 2,386 professionals reported medication error, while 33.4 per cent did not think reporting was necessary.

“The incidence rate of medication errors was somewhat high, and the majority of identified errors were related to prescription of incorrect ART regimens and potential drug-drug interactions; the prescriber was contacted, and the errors were resolved in the majority of cases,” he said.

Medication error

In his remark, WHO Deputy Country Representative, Alex Chimbaru, said medication errors occur most commonly due to weaknesses in medication systems.

Representing the Country Representative, Walter Mulombo, Mr Chimbaru said these errors are aggravated by shortages of well-trained health staff, and poor working and environmental conditions for delivery of quality health care.

He explained that patients’ rights to medication without prejudice can be compromised through inappropriate prescribing, transcribing, dispensing, administration, and monitoring practices.

He said global estimates show that medication errors contribute to over three million deaths every year, a situation which has been exacerbated by overwhelmed health systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Weak medication systems and/or human factors are the major contributory factors to unsafe practices, with many countries lacking the capacity to detect, evaluate and prevent medicine safety issues,” he said.

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“Other contributory factors include fatigue, inadequate knowledge and training, staff shortages, workplace distractions and high workload and limited resources.”

Low awareness level

Mr Ehanire noted that patients and members of the public are sometimes passive while receiving drug treatments.

He said most patients, especially those on long-term medications for chronic illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, are unaware of the medications prescribed to them, thereby jeopardising their safety.

“Some patients abuse medications such as antibiotics that can create problems of antimicrobial resistance.

“Polypharmacy which is the routine use of four or more over-the-counter, prescription and/or traditional medications at the same time by a patient, can also cause harm from multi-drug interactions and increase the side effects of drugs,” he said.

Mr Ehanire said miscommunications also occur when patients’ drugs are not properly handed over either during the change in shifts or transfer of care from one health facility to another.

All hands on deck

Mr Ehanire said everyone has a role in promoting medication without harm.

He said patients should be empowered to ask questions about the medications prescribed, know their names, and learn about the side effects of the drugs being taken.

Mr Ehanire said Nigeria is already working to develop its national policy and strategy on patient safety and quality of care.

“We are hoping it will be completed and launched this year so that it can be deployed for use in all our health facilities at all levels of care,” he said.

He noted that the policy focuses on improving medication safety, surgical safety, and safety of all medical procedures.

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He said the goal of medication safety is to reduce severe and preventable medication-related harm by 50 per cent in the next five years specifically by addressing harm resulting from errors or unsafe practices in the health system.

This, he said, can be achieved by making improvements at each stage of the medication process, including prescribing, dispensing, administering, monitoring and use.

World Patient Safety Day

World Patient Safety Day is celebrated on 17 September every year with a focus on “medication without harm”.

The campaign which started in 2017 calls on stakeholders to prioritise and take early action in key areas associated with significant patient harm due to unsafe medication practices.

These include high-risk situations, transitions of care, and concurrent use of multiple medications amongst others.

Globally, one in 20 patients suffers avoidable medication harm and unsafe medication practices, according to WHO.

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