Drug side-effects 'preventable'

  • Deborah Condon

Every year, hospitals have to deal with patients who have suffered an adverse drug reaction (ADR). However a new study has found that many of these reactions are preventable.

An ADR can occur for a number of reasons. The patient may have taken too much of their medicine or mixed it with something they should not have, such as another medication. An example of a common ADR is gastrointestinal bleeding following the incorrect use of painkillers.

Swedish researchers analysed the results of 22 studies to see how frequently ADRs occurred in the hospital setting and to determine if they were preventable.

"We knew that ADRs were common and that some of them were preventable, but no previous study had looked at their frequency in both inpatients and outpatients," explained lead researcher, Katja Hakkarainen, of the Nordic School of Public Health in Gothenburg.

The study found that over half of the ADR cases dealt with by hospitals and emergency department (EDs) involving adult outpatients were preventable. When it came to elderly patients, at least seven in 10 cases were preventable.

Meanwhile with inpatients, almost half of ADR cases were found to be preventable.

The researchers acknowledged that the finding in relation to hospital inpatients may appear surprising. However, they pointed out that ADRs can occur in the hospital setting as a result of ‘poor information flow' between staff and different units. They also noted that the long hours worked by many healthcare professionals can result in an increased number of human errors.

"The reasons for high numbers of preventable ADRs are varied. They may include poor co-ordination of care, lack of time and knowledge among health professionals and lack of patient education. Unfortunately there is no consensus today on what to do to prevent ADRs," Ms Hakkarainen explained.

She insisted that ADRs should not be hidden and no ‘blame and shame' should be involved.

"Human error will occur while humans continue to work in healthcare and use medicines. Thus, safety measures need to be incorporated into the health system," she said.

Ms Hakkarainen added that with more and more medications being made available, the number of ADRs will inevitably increase.

Details of these findings are to be presented at the annual conference of the International Pharmaceutical Federation in India this week.


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