Patient safety

69th World Health Assembly Side Event on Addressing the Global Challenge of Medication Safety

25 May 2016

Unsafe medication practices and associated errors are surprisingly common: a doctor’s handwriting is misinterpreted; a patient misreads a label and takes a pill hourly as opposed to daily; the wrong drug or dosage is administered.

These small errors, compounded by the fact that medication is a central part of most patient-doctor interactions, sum to a tremendous burden of disease. Sir Liam Donaldson, WHO Envoy for Patient Safety, contextualized the issue by saying “Patients and families put their trust in health systems, but right now we cannot ensure their safety”.

This side event introduced the upcoming Global Patient Safety Challenge, Medication Safety, in response to WHO Member States concerns. It presented an opportunity for key stakeholders to discuss the current state of medication safety, review advances and challenges, and set goals for the future.

The Challenge will be launched in late 2016, and aims to reduce medication-related harm by 50% globally in the next five years. The Challenge will both address the number of medication safety related errors and fatalities, and present interventions to reduce the number of errors and the global burden of the disease due to unsafe medication practices.

Led by Poland and co-sponsored by Malaysia, Oman, and Sri Lanka, this event sought to provide concrete examples of country experiences.

Country representatives shared their experiences and systems for minimizing patient harm related to medication safety and touched on many common themes: The importance of awareness and education; simple, cost-effective fixes such as improved drug labeling; reporting and learning, and a safety culture which minimizes blame; and the allocation of patient safety specialist jobs.

The panel also focused on how to involve patients in the effort to address medication safety. During the moderated discussion, audience members emphasized the importance of considering work conditions, examining the upstream processes of medication safety, monitoring over-the-counter prescriptions and counterfeit drugs, and more closely regulating medication distribution.

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