Adverse effects from avoidable medication errors are one of the elephants in the room for the Australian health system, accounting for around three per cent of all hospital admissions and generating close to half a million otherwise unnecessary GP consultations, with a total cost to the system of more than $1.2 billion annually. And its getting worse. Recent statistics from the NSW Poisons Information Centre showed calls relating to medication errors have increased by 25 per cent in the last five years. Statistics show those most at risk are older people using multiple medications. Around 30 per cent of Australians aged over 50 are using five or more conventional medications daily, which equates to around 2.5 million people in the highrisk group.
"What Am I Taking?", a new consumer medicines guide, aims to tackle the problem by providing the key facts people need to use their medications safely. Its a reliable home reference for medicine users and their families or carers, with easytounderstand essential information on drugs that have been prescribed for them. It tells people what they need to know when using medications, such as combinations of drugs or types of drugs to avoid, side effects and other reactions to be concerned about, where to get further reliable advice and information and other important precautions and tips. It includes concise profiles of 100 of the most frequently prescribed drugs in Australia (representing around 75% of all PBS prescribing), explaining what theyre for and how they work, precautions to observe before and while taking them, potential side effects and possible interactions with other medications.
Medication errors have numerous causes. Prescribing or dispensing mistakes can result in incorrect medicines or doses, or unwanted interactions between different drugs, but patients can also trigger their own problems, for example by neglecting or altering their doses, or by mixing different medications or supplements without getting professional advice. Something as simple as changing the dose of one medication can have serious health impacts, either by directly causing an adverse effect or by reducing the therapeutic effect of another drug. Medicines taken for one medical condition can also have negative effects on other unrelated conditions the patient may have. The possibility of errors increases exponentially when people have limited knowledge or understanding of their medicines, but not enough is being done to address the issue. The solution is for patients to be better educated and informed, so they know how to recognise if drugs are not working or producing unwanted side effects, and what to do if either occurs.
However there are limited options. Doctors and pharmacists do their best to ensure patients are informed about their medications, but there is only so much that can be communicated in a brief consultation or at a busy pharmacy counter, and verbal advice is only useful if the patient remembers it. The only approved information sources for consumers are the information leaflets produced by the drug manufacturers but these are often not included with the drugs. And even when they are provided they can be long, confusing, printed in tiny type and usually end up being discarded. One study showed that 30% of consumers do not read them at all. In the absence of other information, consumers often go to the web, but this is not without its own potential problems. The internet is a mass of confusing and conflicting information, and it can be difficult for consumers to distinguish between reputable sites and those which make dubious or dangerous claims.
"What Am I Taking?" aims to bridge the information gap by providing essential facts in an accessible, simple format. Compiled by an expert team, its a reliable reference which will help users avoid the potential risks and pitfalls associated with their medication use.
Peter was general manager of Australian Medicines Handbook a leading publisher of medicines reference books and online resources for pharmacists, doctors and other health professionals from 2004 to 2013. Prior to that he spent many years as a consultant providing strategy, policy and communications advice to corporations and government bodies in sectors including health, infrastructure and the arts. During this time he also operated a bespoke publishing company producing books, magazines, newsletters and other publications. Previously, Peter was marketing manager for the Adelaide Festival Centre and Festival of Arts, and before that worked in journalism for two decades as a reporter, feature writer, columnist and theatre critic for major metropolitan newspapers in Australia, punctuated by several years as a foreign correspondent in Europe and feature writer for newspapers and magazines in the UK.
Juliet Richards BPharm, MPS, CGP
Juliet is the proprietor of MyMedsHealth, which works closely with GPs to provide medicines reviews and chronic disease management services to people living in the community. She is an accredited consultant pharmacist with special interests in geriatrics, diabetes and chronic disease management. Juliet spent most of her previous career working as a clinical pharmacist in large tertiary hospitals including the Royal Adelaide Hospital, Flinders Medical Centre and the Repatriation General Hospital (SA). She has also worked in community pharmacy and at regional hospitals. Juliet is a member of several professional associations and has held the role of Continuing Education coordinator for the Society of Hospital Pharmacists Australia SA/NT branch. She has sat on a number of committees, including the Formulary Implementation Committee, and was involved in updating the South Australian Local Health Network Preadmission and Perioperative Medication Guidelines. At the time of publication she was also completing a graduate certificate in diabetes management and education.
2. Warnings, Precautions and More
3. Treatment Classes
4. Drug Profiles Important Information
5. Drug Profiles
What Am I Taking? is a potential best-seller. Its market includes anyone using prescription drugs, but the core market is older people using multiple medications. Consider the scale of its potential readership:
- there are more than 150 MILLION prescriptions written annually for the 100 drugs profiled in What Am I Taking?
- there are more than 2.5 MILLION Australians aged over 50 who are using more than five medications daily
- and there are MILLIONS more who also use prescription drugs with less frequency, or who have children or other family members that use them, or who are carers for people that rely on them.