A major study of GP prescribing, led by The University of Nottingham, has found that while the vast majority of prescriptions written by family doctors are appropriate and effectively monitored, around 1 in 20 contain an error.
Researchers looking at a sample of GP practices in England found that where there were errors, most were classed as mild or moderate, but around one in every 550 prescription items was judged to contain a serious error.
The most common errors were missing information on dosage, prescribing an incorrect dosage, and failing to ensure that patients got necessary monitoring through blood tests.
The research, commissioned by the General Medical Council, is the largest-scale study of its kind. It provides an important insight into how errors in prescribing come about and the researchers say improvements can be made to reduce the error rate.
Emphasis on training
The research recommends a greater role for pharmacists in supporting GPs, better use of computer systems and extra emphasis on prescribing in GP training.
Professor Tony Avery of The University of Nottingham’s Medical School, who led the research, said: "Few prescriptions were associated with significant risks to patients but it’s important that we do everything we can to avoid all errors.
"GPs must ensure they have ongoing training in prescribing, and practices should ensure they have safe and effective systems in place for repeat prescribing and monitoring.
"I’d also encourage doctors to share their experiences of prescribing issues both informally within their practices, and also formally where appropriate through local or national reporting systems. Prescribing is a skill, and it is one that all doctors should take time to develop and keep up-to-date.”
Professor Sir Peter Rubin, Chair of the General Medical Council, said: “GPs are typically very busy, so we have to ensure they can give prescribing the priority it needs.
"Using effective computer systems to ensure potential errors are flagged and patients are monitored correctly is a very important way to minimise errors. Doctors and patients could also benefit from greater involvement from pharmacists in supporting prescribing and monitoring.
"We will be leading discussions with relevant organisations, including the RCGP, the CQC and the Chief Pharmacist in the Department of Health, to ensure that our findings are translated into actions that help protect patients.”
The study follows 2009 research commissioned by the GMC examining prescribing errors made by foundation doctors in hospitals, which has resulted in extra emphasis on prescribing in medical school curricula: http://www.gmc-uk.org/about/research/research_commissioned_4.asp
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has 40,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘the world’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking 2011.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2011, for its research into global food security.
Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news
The General Medical Council (GMC) registers and licenses doctors to practise medicine in the UK. The law gives the GMC four main functions:
- keeping up-to-date registers of qualified doctors
- fostering good medical practice
- promoting high standards of medical education and training
- dealing firmly and fairly with doctors whose fitness to practise is in doubt