Poor medical literacy causes errors in Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

Poor medical literacy causes errors in Sri Lanka

With five years short of achieving the Global Patient Safety challenge on Medication Safety, the World Alliance for Patient Safety is stepping up efforts to achieve its goal of reducing medication errors affecting humans by 50% by 2022.

At a media discussion, Wednesday, a panel of local experts spoke of the current global challenges in developing countries versus developing countries in achieving that goal, the gaps that needed to be filled, and interventions by Lankan health personnel to ensure the delivery of medication without harm to patients.

Speaking on the interventions in place, Chairperson Drugs Committee, Sri Lanka Medical Association ( SLMA) Prof. Githa Fernando said, a booklet on ‘Patient information on commonly used medicines’ had been published by the Sri Lanka Medical Association to provide essential information to the public about drugs which are commonly used . “ The book is in all three languages and needs the help of the media to publicize its contents as we are short of funds to publish enough books to be distributed countrywide, which is our goal. Each topic has been written by specialist doctors and a pharmacist after much discussion. Read it as it will provide you with useful information”, she urged.

Drawing attention to antibiotics overuse, she said, “Antibiotics overuse is a global problem. They should not be used for treating viral infections like a common cold or viral diarrhoea as they are self limiting illnesses and one will not benefit by the use of antibiotics. Overuse can lead to antibiotic resistance (ABR) where some antibiotics may become ineffective when used for certain bacterial infections.”

To reduce resistance she advised using antibiotics only if prescribed by a doctor, avoid self medication, use the correct dosage and check expiry dates, etc.

Consultant Physician, Professor of Pharmacology, Dept of Pharmacology , Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Prof. Priyadarshini Galappathy, while highlighting alarming facts on medical errors in developed nations such as the US, where between 44,000-96,000 people die every year due to medical errors, with one million preventable adverse drug reactions annually as well, she said, whereas one in ten patients i.e. 10% were harmed in hospitals in developed nations, the numbers were high in the developing nations, which lacked sophisticated technologies to treat patients.

“ Errors occur during various stages in the medication process, when prescribing, transcribing, supplying and dispensing, preparing, administering and monitoring the patient while on treatment. Collectively, they can harm the patient and be regarded as a failure in the treatment process,” she said.

Drawing attention to the Lankan situation, she said, only 18.9% of patients had a good knowledge on medicines out of a sample survey of 700 patients. The same survey had revealed that less than half - 42.4% knew the name of drugs prescribed, or why they were prescribed, and just 2% knew anything about the dosage. She urged the public to know each medicine if they are taking multiple medicines, and inform doctors about the medications if transferred to another hospital.

Some herbal products can also interact with western medicines and cause side effects similar to western medicines, she added. Commenting on the hospital problems, she said, inexperienced personnel – interns, trainee nurses , work overload among doctors with one doctor sometimes looking after 400 patients, non provision of labelled medicines were some of the gaps that needed to be filled.

Director General Health Services, Dr Jayasundara Bandara said, electronic prescribing would be introduced in several hospitals to overcome the problems of poor handwriting and illegibility when prescribing. 

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