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Priorities for improvement of medication safety in primary care

Medication error is a frequent, harmful and costly patient safety incident. Research to date has mostly focused on medication errors in hospitals. In this study, we aimed to identify the main causes of, and solutions to, medication error in primary care. The resuls of the study were published in BMC Family Practice.

In the study, we used a novel priority-setting method for identifying and ranking patient safety problems and solutions called PRIORITIZE. We invited 500 North West London primary care clinicians to complete an open-ended questionnaire to identify three main problems and solutions relating to medication error in primary care. 113 clinicians submitted responses, which we thematically synthesized into a composite list of 48 distinct problems and 45 solutions. A group of 57 clinicians randomly selected from the initial cohort scored these and an overall ranking was derived. The agreement between the clinicians’ scores was presented using the average expert agreement (AEA). The study was conducted between September 2013 and November 2014.

The top three problems we identified were incomplete reconciliation of medication during patient ‘hand-overs’, inadequate patient education about their medication use and poor discharge summaries. The highest ranked solutions included development of a standardized discharge summary template, reduction of unnecessary prescribing, and minimisation of polypharmacy. Overall, better communication between the healthcare provider and patient, quality assurance approaches during medication prescribing and monitoring, and patient education on how to use their medication were considered the top priorities.

We identified a range of suggestions for better medication management, quality assurance procedures and patient education. According to clinicians, medication errors can be largely prevented with feasible and affordable interventions.

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