Prescribing safety

Prescribing safety

May 2, 2007
Every year about three quarters of a million Canadians are hospitalized after taking prescription drugs. In fact, half of all preventable deaths in Canada may be caused by side effects from prescription drugs.

Overdoses, allergic reactions, and incompatible drugs are just some of the preventable problems Robyn Tamblyn, an epidemiologist at the McGill University Health Centre, is trying to solve.

Tamblyn is experimenting with a hand-held computer for doctors to write and transmit prescriptions to a central database. Patients present a code number to their pharmacist who then retrieves the prescription electronically. This eliminates the chances of misreading a doctor’s hand writing. But more importantly, it allows all of a patient’s prescriptions to be stored and accessed though a central database—preventing overdoses or conflicting prescriptions from being filled. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A true health professional at heart, Tamblyn also wants to change how medical research is carried out. She is working toward a system that would shorten the time between research and improved patient care. Today, doctors have to wait for researchers to conduct studies that reveal how patients are responding to a drug. Using an automated system, drug reactions in patients could be monitored in real time. This would allow doctors to adjust how they prescribe and administer drugs to patients right away. The same system could also detect emerging epidemics and alert health care professionals of an outbreak while it is still unfolding.

Tamblyn says this kind of technology would have been hard to imagine 10 years ago. But with the availability of a huge data warehouse and high-speed computers, she was able to attract a multi-disciplinary team of specialists to help her develop these pioneering ideas. “Ultimately, this is about giving control back to the health care team and their patients. The more we know and the faster we know it, the better care we can give people,” Tamblyn says.