Linked data systems will immediately expose neglect of people in aged care and medical error

Johanna  Westbrook calls for action

Professor Johanna Westbrook

Leading aged care researcher says prescribing errors, overuse of drugs and medical neglect in residential aged care facilities could be exposed by the better linkage of routinely collected data.

Professor Johanna Westbrook, who was a key witness to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and quoted in the Final Report, welcomes the Federal Government’s plan to increase funding for the aged care sector but warned against ignoring the evidence already available from research.

The Federal Government announced on 11 May 2021 $45 million to roll out electronic medication charts in residential aged care facilities.

The aged care sector is awash with data now, but it is rarely used by providers to monitor the care delivered, and is not transparent to residents or their families. Professor Westbrook is calling on researchers, the government, aged care sector and IT industry to work together to design effective and compassionate solutions.

Optimising the use of information already held in disconnected or poorly linked medication and health records would assist aged care providers to monitor medication use patterns to ensure residents are not put at risk by remaining on medication longer than recommended.

As illustrated by reports to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, many residents are receiving antipsychotic medicine for longer than the recommended time. This was evidenced by Professor Westbrook’s research linking for the first time the electronic health records and medication administration data in 68 residential aged care facilities. The research revealed that 65% of 5,825 people in the facilities with dementia who were treated with antipsychotics, remained on the medication for longer than the recommended maximum 12-week duration.

The use of electronic medication management systems – i.e. linked IT systems used to record prescriptions, order medication, and manage the administering of medicine – is another way research and industry can work together to improve safety. Professor Westbrook’s research in hospitals showed a 50% decrease in the rate of prescribing error with the introduction of IT systems. Professor Westbrook urges the aged care sector to learn from this experience and the evidence available.

Harnessing IT in more effective ways will also allow the efficacy of reforms in aged care delivery to be monitored to ensure they result in safer care for residents.

While residential aged care providers remain data rich but information poor, people will continue to suffer pressure ulcers, mistakes in their medication administration and poor care.”

Professor Westbrook is available for interview, please contact Chrissy Clay.

[Reproduced with permission from the Australian Institute of Health Innovation]

Subscribe to our newsletter