Medication Safety: The Key to an American Health Crisis
A Message from American Pharmacists Association (APhA) President-elect, Dr. Sandra Leal.
With the convergence of COVID-19 and the flu, the need for an equipped and accessible healthcare provider within the community has never been greater. Pharmacists, as frontline clinicians, have stepped up to the challenge and have demonstrated a remarkable ability to serve as a beacon of information, services, and care for millions of patients during an especially confusing and turbulent time.
As we continue to learn more about the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus, medication therapies also continue to emerge. With the introduction of new medications for the treatment of COVID-19, the risk of adverse drug events (ADEs) increases, creating the need for more accessible and trained medication safety experts.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an ADE is defined as an injury resulting from medical intervention related to a drug, including medication errors, adverse drug reactions, allergic reactions, and overdoses. It is important to note that ADEs are not confined to one isolated patient demographic or care setting. Instead, they can happen to anyone who takes medication, and they can happen anywhere — including hospital, long-term care, and outpatient settings.
As a pharmacist, an industry advocate, and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) President-elect, I believe pharmacy is the profession most exposed to the risks and implications of ADEs, and pharmacists are the most well-positioned providers to identify and resolve them.
To fully understand the prevalence of ADEs, and the critical role of the pharmacist as the “quarterback” to patient care, it is helpful to first understand why ADEs are so pervasive, and so difficult to mitigate without the oversight of a pharmacist as a key medication safety expert.
Treating multiple diseases can require multiple medications, often prescribed by multiple providers. Consider this recent report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that nearly a third of American adults, aged 60-79, used five or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days. Patients taking multiple drugs for multiple diseases, prescribed by multiple caregivers, are inherently at greater risk of experiencing prescribing errors, unintended medication misuse, and life-threatening ADEs.
Further, it is not uncommon for the effects of an ADE (e.g. feeling tired, dizzy, or nauseous) to be misdiagnosed as a new symptom of a new disease, leading the patient to be prescribed yet another drug.
The dangerous cycle continues — until intervened upon by an equipped medication safety expert.
Positioned for Success
Central to the patient healthcare continuum is the community pharmacist. Often touted as the nation’s most accessible clinical provider (most Americans live within five miles of the nearest pharmacy1), the pharmacist is well-positioned to coordinate the care of the patient and deliver medication safety services for reduction of ADEs.
Synchronous to my role as APhA President-elect, is my position as Executive Vice President for Professional Advocacy for Tabula Rasa HealthCare (TRHC), a company advancing the field of medication safety. In that role, I witness the willingness and ability of the community pharmacist to leverage clinical and scientific practices to provide better patient outcomes.
Akin to the pandemic, the growing national health crisis of ADEs requires a central figure of leadership to help communities navigate challenging circumstances. I believe no profession is better positioned to inspire hope, provide informed services, and deliver outcomes than the community pharmacist.
To my fellow pharmacists, as the industry continues to become more competitive, and patients continue to expect more from providers, we must yet again demonstrate our unique ability to recognize and integrate innovative solutions into workflow. Medication safety services and solutions are available to us and can help community pharmacists reduce ADEs through proactive and personalized care.
Sandra Leal, PharmD, MPH, FAPhA, CDCES
2020-2021 American Pharmacists Association (APhA) President-elect
Executive Vice President — Professional Advocacy, Tabula Rasa HealthCare
- 03/13/2015, Jim Frederick. “By the Numbers: How Community Pharmacists Measure Up.” Drug Store News, drugstorenews.com/pharmacy/numbers-how-community-pharmacists-measure