The typical process of medication management within a care home setting is complex and requires many essential steps, various information sources and the involvement of internal and external healthcare professionals.

Strengthening these interdisciplinary partnerships and streamlining the workflows that support medication administration will play a critical role in protecting elderly residents from the adverse events caused by medication errors.

According to the Care Homes Use of Medicines (CHUM) study, errors occur on 8.4 percent of medication administration events. That would mean that a care home resident being administered medication three times a day, would have an 84 percent chance of receiving a medication administration error every week and a 99.9 percent chance every month.

To give credit where credit is due, there are signs that medication standards in care home homes have improved dramatically in the last decade. The Care Quality Commission has reported that the proportion of care homes meeting or exceeding that national minimum standard on medication had jumped to 70 percent by 2009. But there is still room for improvement, with a significant amount of care home medication errors being preventable.

Preventable medication errors and discrepancies are caused by a combination of factors. Firstly, the use of multiple medicines by residents is common in care homes, given their complex care needs. In the Centre for Policy on Ageing’s Managing and Administering Medication in Care Homes for Older People, it is suggested that care home residents are, on average, prescribed seven to eight medications. Using this statistic, it is reasonable to assume that a 100 bed care home would be administering about 700 to 800 medications to residents per day.

Now consider that the primary tools being used by the majority of care home providers to manage their residents’ medications still largely revolve around paper-based systems with significant limitations. It becomes very challenging to provide the highest levels of safe and quality care, while using a manual approach to administer such large volumes of medications.

The new era of electronic medication management

An upward trend has occurred over the past few years, where we are witnessing a greater number of care home providers taking the necessary steps to improve medication management processes. By restructuring and investing in electronic medication management (EMM) systems, many providers are achieving an immediate and substantial reduction in preventable medication errors.

Apart from the obvious need to reduce the risk of harm to residents, implementing EMM systems within care homes can result in organisation-wide efficiencies. Below we have outlined five ways that your organisation and its employees can enhance medication administration outcomes with the implementation of EMM.

Reduced compliance risks

In a typical care homes setting, drugs are administered by trained care staff at appropriate intervals throughout the day. There are usually three to four medication rounds per day, which are demanding, time consuming and often laden with interruptions. In fact the CHUM study described interruption during medication rounds as ‘frequent’ or ‘constant’, and identified interruptions as the most significant contributor to medication errors. Not surprisingly, they can also lead to serious compliance risks.

EMM systems outperform paper-based systems in this regard, with intuitive alerts and warnings that automatically prompt staff to comply with the highest standard of medication administration procedures. These embedded safety alerts and warnings further support accreditation requirements by enforcing the six Rs of correct medication administration – right resident, right medication, right route, right dose, right documentation and right time – and confirming that the welfare and rights of the resident receiving the medications remains the priority throughout.

EMM also enables care home providers to safeguard against the compliance risks associated with the administration of PRN ‘as required’ medications. EMM systems ensures staff coordinate, administer and track PRNs with greater efficiency, by capturing a detailed history for each resident, as well as documenting the reason why the PRN was administered. EMM systems that integrate with electronic clinical systems also allow this information to be automatically updated and recorded within daily notes, eliminating the need to rely on human memory. This ensures overall greater accuracy and more effective evaluation of PRN medications.

In a revenue constrained environment, care home operators must ensure compliance. Due to the way funding works in the UK, non-compliance also negatively impacts directly on funding and hence the organisation’s bottom line. By safeguarding your organisation’s medication management processes with a robust electronic system, you’ll achieve a greater compliance rating and more funding as a result.

Read part two of this series to find out how care home operators can use EMM systems to increase efficiency and productivity; reduce pressure on resources; enhance governance and decision making; streamline communications with pharmacy; as well as improve daily experiences for staff.