Electronic medication management has become a hot topic in recent years as the greater use of digital and information technology is expanding into the care home sector.

However, a concrete understanding of this specific technology seems to be lacking, with the terms ‘electronic medication management’ and ‘electronic medication administration records’ often used very loosely and sometimes interchangeably. The difference between the two terms is actually quite significant.

What is the difference?

Firstly, let’s take a closer look at electronic medication administration records (eMAR). It seems that no two definitions of eMAR are the same and consequently, not all eMAR solutions are created equal.

In the most basic terms, eMAR can simply be an electronically published version of the paper-based MAR, which documents the medication administrations made to residents by authorised care staff.

In this context, the use of eMAR can replace the need for cumbersome paper-based MAR and create efficiencies around the management, use, and storage of such vital information. But it is not until eMAR is integrated with electronic medication management technology (EMM) that the full scope of benefits can be realised.

EMM systems that incorporate eMAR are designed to improve workflow efficiency and increase the potential for significant safety gains, throughout the entire, end-to-end medication management process. Not only at the point of medication administration.

In other words, eMARs that interface with EMM systems are highly effective in supporting all of the key processes that care home staff are responsible for when it comes to medication management. EMM systems provide relevant information needed to support the choices about medication management from the point of prescribing, through to dispensing, checking in, administration and monitoring.

Checking in medications correctly

With functionality to integrate with pharmacy dispensing systems, EMM supports a seamless, safe and efficient flow of information from the pharmacy to the care home.

All medication orders are populated and checked in within the system, ensuring that the care home receives the right medication from the pharmacy. Any discrepancies are identified as early on in the process as possible. One source of truth ensures the first ‘right’ of correct medication administration – the ‘right medication’ – is supported.

Administering medications safely

End-to-end EMM systems also ensure that medication administration is managed safely and correctly, according to relevant legislation and regulatory requirements.

Generally, to administer medication using EMM, authorised care staff will log in to the system at the start of a medication round, and will only view the medications to be given within a particular time period.

Critical information about each resident is clearly made available at the point of administration, while a digital photograph of each resident always confirms that the right medication is administered to the right person.

Care staff may select a reason for not administering the medication, such as resident refusal. All administered medications are stamped with a date, time and signature to create an electronic audit trail to confirm administration of each dose.

An intuitive EMM system will also trigger alerts and warnings that automatically prompt staff to administer medications when medications are due or have been missed. This ensures that gaps on the MAR are eliminated, and supports staff to maintain the highest standard of medication administration procedures.

Research suggests that care home residents are, on average, prescribed seven to eight medications each day. For care homes that depend on manual processes to drive each medication administration event, it becomes challenging to maintain the highest level of resident safety.

With an electronic system, the ‘rights’ of correct medication administration – right resident, right medication, right route, right dose, right documentation and right time – can be enforced, and the rights of the resident receiving the medications remain the priority throughout the process.

Auditing, disposing and re-ordering medications efficiently

According to the Care Homes Use of Medicines (CHUM) study, errors occur on 8.4 percent of medication administration events, with nearly one-half of all administration errors attributed to omissions.

EMM systems have the potential to reduce certain types of medication errors such as omitted doses. Electronic stock files streamline the stock inventory process by enabling care staff to quickly and easily access and check the stock levels of both prescribed and PRN ‘as required’ medications within the care home. Maintaining accurate stock levels of medications is critical for care homes in ensuring the utmost safety of residents, and safeguarding against the risk of non-compliance.

EMM also has configurations to enhance stock auditing, disposing and re-ordering processes – an area where many care homes are at risk of non-compliance.

While electronic medication administration records are proven to be more effective than paper-based MAR, eMAR only represents a single component of a complex medication administration process. Only once eMAR is integrated with electronic medication management technology (EMM) can workflow efficiencies improve and safety gains increase throughout the entire, end-to-end medication management process.

(Image credit: Stuart Miles)