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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

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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.

The Foundations Framework for Developing and Reporting New Models of Care for Multimorbidity

15 Nov

by Jonathan Stokes, Research Associate in the Manchester Centre for Health Economics

J Stokes_Foundations Framework diagram

With colleagues at the Universities of Bristol, Glasgow and Dundee, we have published a framework aimed at improving care for patients with multimorbidity (two or more long-term conditions).

Long-term conditions and multimorbidity are a global health priority. Patients with multimorbidity receive more fragmented care and have worse health outcomes, and health systems struggle to address their needs. We need new ways of delivering care to address this.

To date, there has been limited success at delivering care that improves outcomes for these patients. One major problem is that there is no agreement on how to describe care for patients with multimorbidity. This makes it difficult for researchers to talk about their work, and to explain these new ways of delivering care to patients and policy makers. Our framework offers a starting point for addressing this issue.

Our framework describes care for multimorbidity in terms of the foundations:

  •  the theory on which it is based
  • ·         the target population (‘multimorbidity’ is a vague term, so we need to define the group carefully, e.g. a patient with diabetes and hypertension might have very different care needs than a patient with dementia and depression)
  • the elements of care implemented to deliver the model.

We categorised 3 elements of care: (1) the clinical focus (e.g. a focus on mental health), (2) how care was organised (e.g. offering extended appointment times for those who have multimorbidity), and (3) what was needed to support care (e.g. changing the IT system to better share electronic records between primary and secondary care).

We used our framework to look at current approaches to care for multimorbid patients. We found:

  • Care for multimorbidity is mostly based on the well-known Chronic Care Model (CCM). This was designed for people with single diseases, and may not be fit for purpose for patients with multimorbidity.
  • Much care is focussed on elderly or high-risk patients, although there are actually more people aged under 65 with multimorbidity. We need to make sure that models don’t neglect the needs of younger patients, or those who are at lower risk, who might have most to gain in preventing future health problems.
  • We need to look more at the needs of low-income populations (where multimorbidity is known to be more common), and those with mental health problems (multimorbid patients with a mental health issue are at increased risk for worse health outcomes).
  • There is an emphasis on self-management, but patients with multimorbidity frequently have barriers to self-managing their diseases.
  • The emphasis on case management (intensive individual management of high-risk patients) should take into account the evidence that while patient satisfaction can be improved, cost and self-assessed health are not significantly affected.

Health systems have only recently begun to implement new models of care for multimorbidity, with limited evidence of success. Careful design and reporting can help develop evidence more rapidly in this important area. We hope our framework can encourage better research which is urgently needed to improve care for those who use it most.

This free to read article can be found at the following link: http://www.annfammed.org/content/15/6/570.full

Stokes J, Man M-S, Guthrie B, Mercer SW, Salisbury C, Bower P. The Foundations Framework for Developing and Reporting New Models of Care for Multimorbidity. The Annals of Family Medicine. 2017;15(6):570-7.

Patient Safety in Community Pharmacy: the importance of teamwork

19 Oct

by Tomasz Niebudek, Pharmacist

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My name is Tomasz Niebudek. I work as a community pharmacist in the Salford area. Last year at the end of May our Superintendent Pharmacist forwarded to me an e-mail asking if anybody would be interested in taking part in a project at The University of Manchester. In a nutshell, the aim of the project was to improve safety in community pharmacy. I expressed my interest in participating, thinking that this would be an interesting challenge, that would allow me to reflect on and improve safety in my pharmacy and across the whole company.

One of the key things that I learnt by joining the collaborative is that we should look, not only at reactive ways of analysing errors, but also use proactive methods  to prevent errors from occurring before they’ve happened. The tool that, in my opinion, had the biggest impact on my practice was PRIMO (Proactive Risk Monitoring for Organisational Learning). This was basically a questionnaire given to all staff members in my team to find out what affects their ability to dispense accurately. This led to many interesting observations and reflections. It was encouraging to see that staff members who are usually quiet during the staff meetings had very strong views on certain matters. Some team members identified a problem and were able to provide a solution to it almost immediately. It was so motivating to see that they care about safety and it was also interesting to discover that my staff members have observed issues that I have never picked up on. I have very carefully analysed all the data from those questionnaires and shared my conclusions with my whole team during a staff meeting. We have straight away implemented changes to our practice. As you all know, change within organisations can be met with resistance by staff. However, the fact that the ideas were generated by the staff themselves made a huge difference (a positive one, of course). Doing that questionnaire made me realise that staff need to be fully onboard when safety is being considered.

I now encourage all staff in my branch to report near misses and dispensing errors, as previously, this was a task only/usually undertaken by myself. We work together to think of ideas to improve practice and safety in the pharmacy. Initially, I was worried that some staff might have the attitude that “this is not my problem”, which is an approach that I think is partially to blame for errors in primary care. However, I’ve learned that if you respect your team for the valuable input they can have in improving practice, and work with them to achieve this aim, it pays back.

Big thanks to The University of Manchester researchers in helping us to look at safety from a different perspective.

The purpose of the Community Pharmacy Patient Safety Collaborative is to work as a group exchanging ideas and sharing experiences. The same approach must be used on an individual pharmacy level- pharmacists can only improve the safety of their patients with his or her team on board.

Safety Informatics: Using every opportunity to learn

11 Sep

by Niels Peek, Research Lead for Safety Informatics theme

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As our world is quickly becoming more connected, a transformative potential emerges to make it safer. Digital technologies are now commonplace within the NHS and in our daily lives, producing rich data on all aspects of health.

For instance, my smartphone captures my whereabouts through its GPS sensor and thus knows that I’m currently in China. It also measures my physical activity by counting my daily steps. The electronic health record maintained by my GP describes all interactions that I’ve had with primary care, including symptoms, observations, measurements, test results, prescriptions, and referrals. Hospital records capture rich data on diseases (e.g. through high-resolution images) and provide detailed accounts of any hospital care that I have received.

Connecting these data sources can help us gain a deep understanding of patient safety issues and the factors that can increase risk. Not only can they tell us that an adverse event has happened (e.g. someone was admitted to A&E) but they can also help us to trace back the chain of events leading up to this (e.g. a trip abroad; followed by a period of staying at home, not feeling well; a GP visit).

Advanced analytical methods such as Artificial Intelligence can subsequently facilitate early assessments of risk, and support patients and clinicians in preventing adverse events. This structured, system-level approach is also known as a learning healthcare system: an integrated healthcare system which harnesses the power of data and analytics to learn from every opportunity, and feed the knowledge of “what works best” back to patients, clinicians, public, health professionals and other stakeholders to create rapid cycles of continuous improvement.

The Safety Informatics theme within the NIHR Greater Manchester PSTRC will utilise the learning healthcare system approach to understand real-world contexts in which safety issues arise and what is required to take corrective actions. We will build on the established “ACTION” infrastructure to provide real-time feedback to primary care clinicians in Greater Manchester which is already used to improve medication safety, support long-term conditions management, and facilitate antibiotic stewardship.Specific projects will focus on:

  • reducing diagnostic errors
  • enabling automated monitoring of late treatment effects in cancer survivors
  • prevention of pulmonary complications after surgery
  • more timely and accurate computer-assisted monitoring of lab test results by both    patients and clinicians.

Patient safety and children with long-term health conditions

4 Sep

by Sue Kirk, Professor of Family and Child Health

Juvenile diabetes patient with his mother

Increasing numbers of children and young people are living with a long-term health condition such as diabetes or asthma. Over the past 20 years we have also seen more children with complex healthcare needs being cared for in their own home rather than in hospital.  These changes have led to parents (and the children themselves) taking on roles and responsibilities that would have been unthinkable in the past. This includes monitoring their individual health, managing their own medication and treatment, using complex medical equipment such as ventilators, acting as care coordinators, and in some cases organising and managing home care teams.

Parents and young people don’t only manage these health conditions within the relatively controlled environment of the home. Children and young people go to school and college, take part in social activities with their peers and families, go on holiday and may spend time in hospices and other care settings. They may also receive services from a vast array of health, social care and voluntary sector organisations. This presents challenges for communication, both between professionals and between families and professionals, and consequently for care integration. This is worsened as young people transfer to adult services.

Surprisingly there has been little research that has examined patient safety for this marginalised group. We don’t know how families or health care professionals understand, monitor and manage safety in this complex situation or how safety could be promoted and improved.  This is what we intend to look at as part of the Safety in Marginalised Groups: Patients and Carers theme of the Greater Manchester PSTRC.

Placing ALL patients and carers at the heart of patient safety research: introducing our new theme on marginalised groups

23 Aug

by Caroline Sanders, Research Lead in Safety in Marginalised Groups: Patients and Carers

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In his 2013 review for improving patient safety, Don Berwick emphasised the importance of seeking out the voice of patients and carers, and ensuring they are ‘present, powerful and involved’ at all levels. This has been a major focus of our earlier research, our involvement and engagement work, and led to our priority setting partnership in conjunction with the James Lind Alliance in March 2017. This identified the number 1 question for future research is to understand ‘How can patient safety be assured for the most vulnerable in society?’. This recognises the widespread concerns and evidence showing that patients and carers who are already disadvantaged and marginalised, may also be at greater risk of harm within the healthcare system.  Additionally, we have not yet done enough to ensure we hear the voices and understand the experiences of marginalised groups to be able to develop appropriate and effective interventions to support patient safety for ALL patients and carers.

Our starting point for the new research that will evolve along with our further Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) work, is to acknowledge that people may be disadvantaged and marginalised by multiple factors such age, disability, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and socio-economic disadvantage.  For example, we know that BME groups have poorer health outcomes, and poorer access and experiences of healthcare services. People may also be marginalised because of stigma and poor access to services for specific conditions (e.g. mental health problems); or they may be marginalised because of the circumstances or settings in which they live (e.g. living alone, caring for someone at home, living in a rural setting, in a care home or prison, being homeless).

In this theme, we will be working closely with other themes and our PPI contributors to focus on and understand safety risks and concerns for specific population and patient groups. For example, what are the particular challenges in relation to communication, which we know is considered by patients and carers to be a crucial foundation for safe care? What are the challenges for marginalised groups of patients in the ever-changing care context, where there are new responsibilities and health care practices expected as a part of enabling better self-management? We will co-design or adapt tools to support patient safety that will be tailored for such groups.  This may include use of mobile apps or other technologies, and we will also focus on the help and support that people might need to make sure they can use these, or enable appropriate alternatives. We know this means we need to be creative in reaching out to communities and groups who currently feel disempowered or hidden in relation to healthcare research and service provision. We are looking forward to this exciting opportunity to seek out some of the quietest and most hidden voices to ensure the most vulnerable can have better and safer care.

Please see our webpage or contact us for further information or to share any comments and suggestions.