Professor Johanna Westbrook
Macquarie University
4 October 2019

Medication errors are widely recognised as a major cause of preventable harm and death worldwide, annually costing some $42B globally and $1.28B in Australia.

Last month the Australian Government committed to strengthening Australians’ health through a $440 million commitment for research to prevent illness and deliver better care through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Professor Johanna Westbrook from Macquarie University was awarded a five-year NHMRC Investigator Grant for research into how information technologies can improve health care services, patient safety and outcomes, particularly in the area of medication errors.

Modern health care systems are facing unprecedented pressures as rising costs, ageing populations, and increasingly complex care coincide.

At the same time exceptional opportunities are emerging to harness new technologies to address the resulting quality, safety and efficiency concerns, driving massive investments in new digital clinical systems and tools across Australia and worldwide.

'The potential of new information technologies to alleviate the stresses healthcare systems face depends on the suitability of their design and the effectiveness of their integration into clinical work flows,' said Professor Westbrook.

The health and research sectors are generating an abundance of new knowledge, for example on genomics and precision medicine, designed to inform clinical decisions. But, just as important are specific mechanisms and tools to ensure this knowledge is translated and incorporated into everyday clinical practice.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), medication errors are a major cause of preventable harm and death, costing some $42 billion globally and $1.3 billion in Australia each year.

In 2017, the WHO declared “medication without harm” the next global patient safety goal, reflecting international concern over the risks, harm and waste associated with poor medication management.

Information technology is a potential “game changer” in reducing adverse drug events, increasing the appropriate and effective prescribing and administration of medicines and reducing health care costs.

There is an urgent need to understand how to best design and utilise electronic systems for their immediate purpose and their emerging role as the primary knowledge translation engine of modern healthcare systems.

'Information technology can greatly assist in reducing these medication errors in hospitals. However, there is little robust evidence to guide massive investments in electronic medication management (eMM) systems.'

The lack of high-quality research into the effectiveness of new technologies to influence the behaviours of healthcare professionals, and determination of the extent to which, they are aiding or frustrating clinical decision-making, work patterns and patient outcomes is what is limiting progress.

'This grant will provide an incredible opportunity to expand my program of research to take the next crucial steps in understanding how to leverage the benefits of information technology in the health system,' said Professor Westbrook.

Professor Westbrook’s research will be able determine how to adapt and tailor electronic systems to better match the varied work patterns, needs, preferences and professional cultures of clinicians in multiple settings.

'NHMRC funding is critical to supporting our team of both experienced and emerging researchers to complete research which will address questions fundamental to improving the way in which we design, implement and use information technology in the health care system now and into the future to provide safe, effective and sustainable health care,' said Professor Westbrook.

Professor Westbrook aims to generate the new knowledge essential to realising the full potential of eMM systems and to ensure their effective integration into dynamic clinical workflows to advance medication safety and appropriateness in hospitals, now and into the future.

A full list of grant recipients is available at Outcomes of funding.