20 August 2008

University of Queensland research into how hospital doctors prescribe medication is leading to safer patient outcomes.

Dr Ian Coombes, a trained pharmacist, undertook research into safe prescribing practices for junior doctors as part of his PhD with UQ’s Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine.

“Junior doctors are the people in hospitals most likely to prescribe medication and they are also the most likely to make errors in prescribing,” Dr Coombes said.

“We found that in all their training junior doctors learn about diseases and symptoms and what drugs to prescribe, but they weren’t really taught about how to tailor those to individual patients such as dosage and frequency and this is where most errors occur.”

He said those problems were then compounded when they worked in different hospitals where medication charts varied from site to site and sometimes even from ward to ward within the same hospital.

“It really was a case of the pen being mightier than the scalpel,” he said.

“We don’t let junior doctors operate on patients by themselves, but we were letting them prescribe medication without proper training.”

Dr Coombes, who works at Queensland Health’s Safe Medication Practice Unit, part of Medicines Services Queensland, said his research had led to two important developments for doctor training as well as hospital practices.

“We developed a safe prescribing training program that has been part of the training for all final year medical students at UQ since 2006,” he said.

“Parts of our program have also been adopted by the National Prescribing Service.

“We also developed a standardised medication chart that has been adopted by Queensland Health and implemented across all of its 108 facilities across the State as well as being rolled out nationally.

“No other country in the world has such a system of standardised charts and we are hoping to share our work around the world.

“While we will never eradicate mistakes completely, these developments have seen a significant drop in prescribing errors.”

Dr Coombes conducted the research under the supervision of Associate Professor Danielle Stowasser, former director of the Safe Medication Practice Unit, and Associate Professor Charles Mitchell from UQ’s School of Medicine, the Safe Medication Practice Unit and Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Media: Dr Ian Coombes (0421 612 356) or Andrew Dunne at UQ Communications (07 3365 2802 or 0433 364 181).