Unsafe medication practices and medication errors are a leading cause of injury and avoidable harm in healthcare systems across the world. In recognition of this, in 2017 the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the Third WHO Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm, aimed at improving medication safety. This article provides information and resources related to the Challenge.
WHO states that medication harm accounts for around 50% of the overall preventable harm in medical care and comes with a huge financial cost, estimated at $42 billion USD annually.
Patients can be subject to avoidable harm as a result of medication in a range of different ways, including:
- prescription errors—being underprescribed or overprescribed medicines or receiving a prescription which does not address the health condition and subsequently results in deterioration.
- dosage errors—missed doses or incorrect doses, which can occur in a range of different settings.
- mistakes in administration—such as administering a medicine which should be take intravenously by the intrathecal route.
Global Patient Safety Challenge
This year World Patient Safety Day, on Saturday 17 September 2022, is focused on medication safety. It is intended to build on the existing WHO Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm. Formally launched in 2017, the aim of this is to reduce severe avoidable medication-related harm by 50% in the next five years. This challenge focuses on three key action areas:
- Medication safety in polypharmacy—this concerns is the concurrent use of multiple medications. Although there is no standard definition, it is often defined as the routine use of five or more medications.
- Medication safety in high-risk situations—this concerns circumstances where the medication being used may be associated with a particularly high risk of harm, where provider and patient factors that may increase the level of risk and where system factors (work environment) that may increase the level of risk.
- Medication safety in transitions of care—this concerns the various points where a patient moves or returns from a particular physical location or makes contact with a healthcare professional for the purposes of receiving healthcare,
Each of these actions are mapped against four different domains where greater awareness and action is required:
1. Patients and the public
- Public awareness and medication literacy
- Patient engagement
- Reporting by patients
- Involvement of patient organisations
2. Health care professionals
- Education and training
- Communication and teamwork
- Capability at point of care
- Incident reporting and learning
- Product quality and safety
- Naming, labelling, and packaging
- Logistics, storage, and disposal
- Right product at point of care
4. Systems and practices of medication
- Leadership and governance
- Prescribing, preparation, and dispensing
- Administration and patient monitoring
- Monitoring and evaluation
5 Moments for Medication Safety tool
As part of this Challenge, WHO has developed a patient engagement tool: 5 Moments for Medication Safety. This looks at the key points where a patient or carer can reduce the harm associated with the use of medication/s, with the intention of empowering them to be involved in their care and patient safety.
Medication Safety webinar series
WHO has recently run a series of excellent webinars with global experts, healthcare professionals and patients, to introduce the strategic framework for implementation of this Global Challenge. These include strategies, tools, and technical support to countries for reducing medication-related harm, in addition to sharing country and patient experiences of implementing the challenge. Recordings and presentations from each of these webinars can be accessed below:
- WHO Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm & World Patient Safety Day 2022 (8 February 2022)
- Engaging Patients and Families for Medication Safety (8 March 2022)
- Medication Error Reporting and Learning Systems, and Pharmacovigilance (12 April 2022)
- Medication Safety in High-risk Situations (17 May 2022)
- Medication Safety in Transitions of Care (7 June 2022)
- Medication Safety in Polypharmacy (12 July 2022)
You can find a wide range of articles related medication safety, including research, risks, opinion pieces and examples of good practice, on the hub.
You can also find a number of examples of medication error traps, situations which could lead to avoidable harm if not mitigated, on the hub error traps gallery.