How Tech Can Prevent Adverse Medication Events

Health and well-being is a constant preoccupation in modern culture, and more Americans regularly take prescription medication than ever before. What’s more, in taking these medications, most people think that we’re protecting our health.

Unfortunately, this perspective discounts the 700,000 adverse drug events (ADEs) each year, resulting in over 100,000 hospitalizations. Additionally, many drug errors and ADEs also occur in already hospitalized patients who are administered their medications by medical professionals.

How do we prevent patients from being harmed rather than healed by their medications? Today, use of personal health technology, as well as electronic medical systems, can help reduce the likelihood of dangerous interactions – but patients and medical professionals need to work together.

From Records to Reconciliation

When giving patients medication, there are certain standard practices, including medication reconciliation. Reconciliation is especially important when transferring patients between practitioners, institutions, or even units within the same institution, and the responsibility generally falls on nurses. Nurses need to reconcile all medication orders, including medication types, dosages, and timing whenever a change in care takes place.

The Role of Patient Responsibility

For patients who are being discharged from the hospital or who are managing their conditions at home, complex medication regimens can be difficult to handle. However, with appropriate guidance, most can be very successful and avoid ADEs.

One way to help patients manage their health conditions is by using a patient medication record. On a day-to-day basis, patients can reference this record if they’re unsure about their dosage or the time they’re supposed to take a medication. Digital medication records also make it possible for patients to independently verify potential interactions before taking an OTC medication or herbal remedy, if their doctor or pharmacist hasn’t alerted them.

Little Apps for Serious Safety

Another small way that technology can reduce ADEs is by helping patients identify their medications, double-checking the work of pharmacists. When errors occur in the pharmacy – for example, a lookalike drug is put into a bottle or the medication has a similar name – patients may accept the drug as the correct one based on the label. Why wouldn’t they?

One simple way for patients to protect themselves from these errors in by using a pill identification app. Available for iOS and Android phones, these apps use a picture of your pills to confirm the specific medication and can alert you if you’ve been given the wrong pill. Simply put, these apps can save lives, but are vastly underutilized.

Clearing Communication Barriers

One piece of medical technology that has the potential to reduce ADEs is telehealth communications systems. Teleheath systems can help practitioners caring for the same patient, or transferring patients, communicate about treatment plans and avoid the confusion that sometimes comes from insufficient written communication. They can review records together, make sure there are no gaps, and clarify any errors in the record before they cause problems.

Telehealth tools are being rolled out slowly in the US, due to HIPAA-related concerns, but it is slowly arriving. In the near future, patients can expect and should push for greater doctor collaboration as a standard part of their healthcare, particularly those patients with complex conditions, as they can especially benefit from team treatment practices.

Technology may not be able to completely eliminate ADEs but it’s one of the most powerful tools at our disposal for improving medical care. When embraced both by doctors and patients and used in a collaborative manner, technology opens a door to increased safety and fewer medication-related deaths.

Melissa Thompson
Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.