Patient safety

Medication safety in key action areas

World Health Organization

Publication details

Publication date: June 2019
Languages: English
WHO reference number: WHO/UHC/SDS/2019.9 WHO/UHC/SDS/2019.10 WHO/UHC/SDS/2019.11



As part of the Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm, WHO has asked countries and key stakeholders to prioritize three areas for strong commitment, early action and effective management to protect patients from harm while maximizing the benefit from medication, namely:

  • medication safety in transitions of care
  • medication safety in polypharmacy
  • medication safety in high-risk situations

WHO is presenting a set of three technical reports – Medication safety in high-risk situations, Medication safety in polypharmacy, and Medication safety in transitions of care – to facilitate early priority actions and planning to address each of these areas.

Medication safety in transitions of care

Medication discrepancies impact almost every patient that moves across transitions of care, e.g. admission to or discharge from hospital. WHO urges countries to prioritise early and sustained action to reduce medication-related harm arising at transitions. This report outlines why improving medication safety in transitions of care is a priority and outlines what has been done to date and what needs to be done. The key elements of leadership and improvement programmes, including formal structured processes, workforce capacity and capability, partnering with patients and families, improving information quality and availability and measurement are outlined.

Medication safety in polypharmacy

As the population ages more people are likely to suffer from multiple long term illness and take multiple medications. It is essential to therefore take a person-centred approach to ensure that the medications are appropriate for the individual to gain the most benefits without any harm. This reports highlights importance of leadership in nurturing a culture that priorities safety and quality of prescribing, provides guidance on prioritising patients for medication review, the role of the patient and the importance of a multi-professional team across the health and care system, including policy makers. Included in the report are tools and case studies which illustrate a systematic approach that can be followed by all health care professionals and the patient, across the health and care system to ensure that patients are integral to the decisions about their medications and feel supported to do so.

Medication safety in high-risk situations

High-risk situations are more often associated with significant harm due to unsafe medication practices or medication errors. This report outlines three main factors contributing to high-risk situations: i) medications, particularly high-risk (high-alert) medications, ii) provider/ patient factors, and iii) systems factors (work environment). One or more of these factors, acting alone or in combination may trigger unsafe medication practices or medication errors. The report also outlines how a range of sustainable strategies of proven efficacy can be developed and implemented in conjunction to reduce the risk of harm associated with high risk situations.

Webinar launch of the three technical reports on medication safety

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