Archive | December, 2017

Innovative IT system that prevents prescription errors wins prestigious national prize

5 Dec

Richard Williams_John Perry award_CROPPED

Richard Williams, a Senior Software Engineer at The University of Manchester, based in the NIHR Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Centre (Greater Manchester PSTRC) and Centre for Health Informatics, has been awarded the respected John Perry Prize by BCS: The Chartered Institute for IT.

Announced at a glitzy ceremony in early October, the prize recognises Richard’s outstanding contribution to Primary Care Computing.  Having been awarded annually since 1985 it is one of the IT industry’s most respected accolades, acknowledging innovation and excellence in computer science.

The Prize along with £500 cash was awarded in recognition of Richard’s work developing and disseminating the Smart Medication Safety Dashboard (SMASH).  This potentially life-saving piece of software, which was developed with support from the Greater Manchester PSTRC and Health eResearch Centre (HeRC), was created to improve patient safety by reducing the number of prescription errors.  Such errors occur in 5% of prescriptions according to a recent study of English general practices with one in 550 considered to be life-threatening.

Richard’s work involved the development of an algorithm that trawls GPs’ patient databases in search of high-risk – and possibly dangerous – prescription and/or disease combinations. Once identified, these prescriptions are flagged up to a relevant pharmacist who is able to investigate, question and where appropriate refer prescriptions back to the GP for review.

The high-risk combinations that SMASH could identify might, for example include a patient receiving a complex blend of high-strength medications that need to be carefully managed or someone who has been receiving an un-checked repeat prescription for a long time.

Alongside the digital infrastructure required to develop and implement SMASH, Richard also created an easy-to-view front-end platform.  This allows pharmacists to clearly and quickly identify any risks without the need for complex and time-consuming analysis.

SMASH is now being used by 43 active practices across Greater Manchester. Richard created SMASH by building upon previous work conducted at The University of Nottingham. The team are in the process of analysing the impact, but preliminary results look good. As of January 2017 the number of patients at risk in practices using the dashboard had reduced by 50% – a mean reduction of 21 patients per practice.

Richard was named the overall winner of the prize in the face of tough competition and now joins a respected list of previous recipients including Kate Warriner and Dr Amir Hannan.  Speaking about the prize, Richard said:

“John Perry was pioneering in the field of primary care computing and for his work on developing the first clinical coding terminology for GPs. It’s a great honour to be associated with him, and is particularly relevant as my current research is around how researchers build, reuse and share sets of clinical codes.”

The Smart Medication Safety Dashboard (SMASH) was funded by the NIHR Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre and delivered by the Health eResearch Centre.  Find out more information about the development of the dashboard on the SMASH page of the PSTRC website.

Putting patient safety first

4 Dec

by Maria Panagioti, Senior Research Fellow

GP & Patient pulse_square

Delivering safe healthcare to patients and preventing patient harm is an international priority. Despite this, patient safety incidents are not uncommon. Around 10 per cent of patients experience a harmful patient safety incident whilst being treated. Such harmful incidents could be due to actions of healthcare professionals, healthcare system failures or a combination of both. Medication errors, misdiagnosis, wrong-site surgery, hospital-acquired infections and in-hospital falls are all examples of serious patient safety incidents which can result in patient harm.

While eliminating patient harm is a desirable goal, in practice it may not always be possible. A certain level of harm is considered inevitable because harm cannot always be predicted. For example, some adverse drug reactions occur in the absence of any error in the medication process and without the possibility of early detection.

Focusing on prevention

This understanding has recently led researchers and policymakers to focus on reducing preventable harm. Although full consensus about the nature of preventable harm has not yet been reached, most working definitions include the idea that preventable harm is identifiable, in that it can be attributed to medical care and modifiable in that it’s possible to avoid by adapting a process or adhering to guidelines. The focus on preventable harm could help policy makers and healthcare practitioners to devise more efficient and reliable plans to predict and prevent patient harm.

There has been a lack of clarity in the literature about the prevalence and main types of preventable harm – and how often severe harm such as death and severe injuries are likely to occur. In response to the need to better understand preventable harm, the General Medical Council commissioned our team to undertake a large systematic review and meta-analysis to understand the nature of preventable patient harm across healthcare settings including hospitals, primary care and specialty settings. The aim of this review is to help the GMC and stakeholders get a better understanding of types, causes and patterns of harm – with a view to identifying ways of mitigating them.

Letting numbers do the talking

We reviewed 149 published studies through this work and our findings in relation to the importance and impact of preventable patient harm were striking:

  • Six in 100 patients experience preventable harm and 13% of this preventable harm leads to permanent disability or patient death.
  • Medication incidents such as errors in ordering, prescribing and administering medication, and misdiagnoses are the main causes of preventable patient harm.
  • Preventable patient harm might also be higher in certain medical specialities such as surgery.

These findings provide useful direction on areas where regulators, the NHS and Government should invest to reduce preventable patient harm. For example, investment in interventions to reduce medication errors (particularly at the stages of prescribing and administration of medication) and preventing misdiagnoses would be encouraged by our findings.

In line with our findings, the importance of improving medication safety is fully recognised by the World Health Organisation who have recently identified Medication Without Harm as the theme for their third Global Safety Challenge. Given the large number of studies we reviewed, the quality and depth of data on preventable patient harm is relatively low. We need to invest in better research and reporting practices to understand which types of patient harm clinicians and healthcare systems can prevent.

In recognition of the importance of patient safety research, and following on from previous research undertaken in Manchester and London already having an impact on NHS frontline services, the NIHR announced funding of three new NIHR PSTRCs. Work began in August at the Centres – located in London, Manchester and Leeds – and their aim is to turn patient safety discoveries into practice.

By understanding the nature of preventable patient harm we can work towards eliminating it – saving lives and reducing unnecessary medical interventions. Investing in reducing key sources of preventable harm and improving reporting standards of future research studies on preventability of patient harm could be a major contribution to the safe care of patients.