Patient Safety to the fore | Daily News

Patient Safety to the fore

No one likes to be a patient, but if you do become one, you want the best possible care. Your life is literally in the hands of your doctors when you fall sick. One mistake on the part of the doctor(s) can sometimes make the difference between life and death for patients.

The United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have taken cognizance of this and declared a World Patient Safety Day, which falls today, and calls for concerted action by all countries and international partners to improve patient safety. The Day brings together patients, families, caregivers, communities, health workers, healthcare leaders and policymakers to show their commitment to patient safety.

The resolution ‘Global Action on Patient Safety’ recognises patient safety as a global health priority and endorses the establishment of World Patient Safety Day to be observed annually on September 17.

This year, the focus is on medicines of all types. Medications are the most widely utilized interventions in healthcare, and medication-related harm constitutes the greatest proportion of the total preventable harm due to unsafe care, let alone the economic and psychological burden imposed by such harm.

Acknowledging this substantial burden and recognizing the complexity of medication-related harm prevention and reduction, “Medication Safety” has been selected as the theme for World Patient Safety Day 2022. The campaign is envisaged to provide the needed impetus to consolidate the efforts of the existing WHO Global Patient Safety Challenge “Medication without Harm”, emphasizing the need to promote safe medication practices to prevent medication errors and reduce medication-related harm.

Special consideration must be given to areas where most harm occurs. The key action areas are high-risk situations, transitions of care, and polypharmacy. Medication harm accounts for 50 per cent of the overall preventable harm in medical care. Around US$ 42 billion of global total health expenditure worldwide can be avoided if medication errors are prevented.

Medical science has come a long way in just a few hundred years and once fatal diseases can now easily be cured or prevented. The discovery of Penicillin was a major breakthrough that has saved millions of lives. Similarly, vaccines, which have a history dating back more than 200 years, have saved precious lives of children and adults worldwide. It is believed that more than 20 million lives were saved in just one year by the global Covid-19 vaccination drive. Vaccines are now being developed for other diseases such as Malaria, Dengue and HIV.

There is no doubt that doctors are the key to curing patients, though one cannot underestimate the roles performed by nurses, radiologists, lab workers and other medical staff. It is essential that doctors keep abreast with the latest developments in pharmacology and pharmaceuticals. They have to read medical journals and research papers. A recent survey found that most doctors have little or no idea of recently introduced medications such as Paxlovid and Evusheld, both of which are drugs used to treat Covid-19. This lack of knowledge can lead to unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths.

A correct diagnosis is the best foundation for a patient’s course of treatment. Today, doctors have access to a range of blood tests and imaging solutions such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) which can accurately pinpoint even a hidden malady. This way, some diseases including cancers can be detected in the very earliest stages of development, thereby making treatment easy. Armed with a correct diagnosis, doctors can prescribe the most suitable medicines and surgical interventions. An incorrect diagnosis could lead to a doctor prescribing the wrong medicine, which can prove to be fatal in some instances.

There is also a tendency among some doctors to overprescribe certain medications such as antibiotics, which could be damaging to patient health in the long run, even if the immediate results are positive. Moreover, health authorities must insist that doctors should prescribe the generic version of any given drug, which is likely to be much cheaper than its trademarked equivalent. They should strive to dispel the myth that generic drugs are somehow inferior to their branded counterparts. Of course, there are instances when the same company manufactures both the generic and branded version of a drug.

Moreover, doctors must educate their patients on the medicines prescribed – how they work, any side effects, the proper dosage and timings etc. Pharmacists too should demand a prescription from patients for all medicines other than those allowed for sale Over The Counter (OTC) and clearly give instructions on the packaging. They should also check the expiry dates and also show the same to the patient, who has a right to ask both the doctor and the pharmacist on any issue regarding the drugs prescribed. Patients who already take medicines for any Non-Communicable Disease(s) must always inquire about any possible interactions with the existing drugs regimen if and when they are prescribed another new drug.

The issue of patient safety has come to the fore in Sri Lanka due to the present economic crisis, but the authorities should strive to keep the medicine lifeline afloat to ensure that the safety and lives of patients are not compromised under any circumstances.


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