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Patient safety

Family docs, pharmacists test drug database

EDMONTON – Two provinces are about to test a new technology designed to ensure patients are dispensed the correct drugs and dosage, in the hopes of reducing medical errors.

Health Canada developed the $8-million system, which merges dozens of medical resources in one place that can be easily accessed and updated. The information will be available on a computer and eventually much of it will be transferred to PDAs, so medical staff can carry it with them.

“When I get a prescription and I have a question, or want to check something, instead of going to several different resources, I can just go to one place,” said Jeff Whissell, a pharmacist at the University of Alberta Hospital.

When the name of a drug is entered, all the latest research, dosage guidelines, warnings and other information will pop up. “There’s new drug safety information that is not in the textbooks that are out there because they might only be published once a year at best,” said Janet Cooper, who is leading the development of the database for the Canadian Pharmacists Association.

Cooper said the database will be useful when new drug advisories are sent out.

Right now, that information – such as the recent recall of the arthritis drug Vioxx – is faxed to hospitals and posted on a website that doctors and pharmacists must check. There have been 40 drug advisories so far this year.

Cooper said now that kind of information will be all in one place, and immediately updated as it is released. She also believes the database can help reduce healthcare costs.

“We spend $20 billion on drugs a year, but that’s not always money well spent, not always the right drug chosen or a drug that is less expensive would work just as equally as one costing $100 a month,” Cooper said.

The Alberta pilot project will involve 45 family doctors, 45 pharmacists and 10 nurse practitioners, and will begin in November. The province was chosen because of the work it’s done toward using electronic health records.

The database is also being tested in Nova Scotia.