By Kristian Dye
For this post, I have chosen to write about a Case Report that comes from the United Kingdom. It’s about a patient with a complex set of management challenges, however none of them are rare – and the United Kingdom is almost certainly one of the best places in the world to be with such a complex constellation of conditions.
So far, this does not sound like compelling global health territory, however it addresses a problem that is universal within health care systems globally – polypharmacy. This is an issue which affects certain populations more than others (for example, in elderly populations (1), an average of 2-9 medications are taken daily, with one in six (2) over 65s taking 10 or more daily).
The issue, in this case, is further complicated by the prescriptions not all originating from a single physician. In an older person, they maybe taking antihypertensives, a statin and drugs to reduce cardiovascular risk – however, they will likely all originate with the primary care physician.
‘The patient… is supported regularly by general practice, the school nurse, ear nose and throat specialists, general and community paediatrics, dietetics, specialist dentistry and ophthalmology’
From this list of involved specialties, the potential formulary that prescriptions will come from is probably as wide as in any case imaginable. This opens up an enormous range of potential drug interactions.
This is a real day-to-day patient safety issue faced in all healthcare settings, whether the system is well integrated or highly fragmented.
‘An example where the lack of an up-to-date medication list led to a potential medication-related problem was the prescription of azithromycin for an ear infection by an ENT surgeon. There is a documented drug interaction between azithromycin and domperidone, a medicine used regularly to treat the patient’s gasto-oesophageal reflux’
The solution suggested in the case is to centralise the patient’s records, but not in the way we usually imagine.
Integrated health care records are usually conceived of as a centralised database that healthcare workers are able to tap into and pull down records for their patient. These systems are highly resource intensive and logistically difficult to deliver over large geographical areas. The alternative is wonderfully elegant.
We trust our patients. If we ensure that when we prescribe something, we add it to a patient-held record, then we know that our colleagues will know what we have done, and are able to factor this in to their own treatment decisions. The solution in the case is a smartphone app (3), which is highly convenient for the more than 1.75 billion smartphone users (4) worldwide – however there’s no reason why a similar approach couldn’t be undertaken on old-fashioned paper for those who don’t have access to the technology – in the UK we’ve been doing this for child health (5) for years.
Surely, then, this seems like an easy decision. We can improve the safety of our patients, by trusting our patients. If we can trust patients with the risk of possessing the medicines, why not trust them with the records too?