Medication safety

Medication safety and human factor – keys to successful pharmacotherapies

Medication safety is a combination of many factors. For example, its components include the doctor prescribing and the pharmacy dispensing the correct medicine or the nurse administrating it correctly to the patient – or the patient being able to use the medicine correctly. Human factor is decisive – both ways.

Each person in need of medicines is unique and individual, and so is the disease that is being treated. Based on the professional expertise, the doctor looks for the best medicine for this combination, excluding any wrong choices.

Human error can endanger medication  

  • in the hospital where the doctor’s or nurse’s error, wrong assessment or the therapy routine mixed up by excessively busy schedules may undermine the best possible therapy outcome.
  • in the pharmacy where a human error or a negligence passing the system controls may cause a mistake in the dispensing of a prescription-only medicine.
  • at home where the medicine user plays a decisive role for the good outcome of the outpatient treatment – only the medicine taken correctly will help. 

The correctly prescribed and dispensed medicine does not yet guarantee the cure. The system does not control the choices of individuals or guarantee that the user understands the instructions correctly.

How to influence the human factor?

Training and education of healthcare professionals are key for the promotion of successful pharmacotherapies and minimisation of their weaknesses.

The doctors, nurses, senior pharmacists and pharmacists have degrees that guarantee their professional competence. Continuing education also ensures that their professional skills develop and competence keeps up with changing circumstances.

Co-operation and undisturbed flow of information between the various professional groups help the patient to adhere to the treatments. Pharmacotherapies will be successful only if the whole healthcare chain is involved.

Guidance given to medicine users constitutes integral part of healthcare

Patients must be made informed and they need to understand how the medicine prescribed for them should be used.

  • The healthcare system and professionals must give advice and instructions during the doctors' and nurses' visits.
  • Patients must be provided with simple guidebooks and aid tools.
  • Pharmacy professionals must ensure that their customers use the medicines in the correct way.
  • The pharmaceutical companies must produce understandable, updated and useful information to support the use of their products.

Watertight routines prevent hazards

A medication error means an event in pharmacotherapy that might develop into a dangerous situation. The reason may be something that fails in the protection, something that is not done at all or something that is done wrong.

There are alarms at every step of the pharmaceutical distribution and integrated care pathway:

  • Wholesalers are the first step in the distribution chain and they ensure the smooth availability of medicines.
  • The pharmacy has routine operations to ensure that the patient gets the correct medicine and sufficient advice. As an additional service, the pharmacy can provide dosage dispensing service to those who have difficulties in taking the medicines correctly. The pharmacies also watch for any unnecessary or even potentially dangerous overlapping medications.
  • In hospitals and other inpatient care, the effects of the human factor are minimised through instructions leading to solid routines as well as through training.  

Improvements through co-operation

In the outlines of the Medicines Policy 2020 document, improved medication safety was defined as the responsibility of the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea. When the co-operation with all healthcare operations works, the integrated care pathway of the patients is ensured.

To maintain a good level of medication safety, a constructive contribution of the pharmaceutical industry is also needed. Developed and personalised medicine alternatives as well as clear-language information on medicines and their use must be available to all.