Hospitals benefit in many ways when hiring medication safety officer

Avoided mistakes can save money

The role of medication safety officer (MSO) in hospitals has grown over the past two decades, but the recent recession has caused a setback with hospitals cutting back on the position. This is a big mistake, an expert says.

Medication safety officers educate hospital staff on safety and prevention, they help hospitals implement new technologies related to medication distribution and use, they participate in project management, and they take leadership roles within health care organizations, says Deb Saine, RPh, MS, medication safety manager at Winchester Medical Center in Winchester, VA. Saine was scheduled to speak about the role of the medication safety officer at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), held June 6-9, 2010, in Tampa, FL.

Larger hospitals developed this specialized role over the decades in response to greater accreditation, regulatory, and public emphasis placed on safety standards, Saine notes.

"As technology became more integral in medication use, the concept and role of the medication safety officer became more prominent," she adds.

The journal Pharmacotherapy released a report in 2008 based on a survey in which the authors asked respondents if they had someone serving as a drug safety officer.

"In that survey, it was reported that about 35% of all responding hospitals said they provided drug safety officer services," Saine says. "There might be variances in what that encompasses and what that person's job responsibilities are."

Although hospitals see value in having a dedicated MSO, the cost of creating that position has limited its growth.

A survey conducted in the fall of 2009 by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in Horsham, PA, found that half of its 848 hospital respondents reported that the economic downturn has forced them to reduce time or eliminate the MSO or quality/risk management staff position. In some cases, the prior MSO's responsibilities were assumed by others, including pharmacy directors.

It's a mistake to cut these positions because hospitals need to increase their focus on medication safety and improve outcomes due to initiatives by the Joint Commission of Oakbrook Terrace, IL, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Saine says.

The CMS has core measures for diseases like congestive heart failure (CHF), which hospitals must meet, and many of these measures involve drug use, she adds.

"So the hospital has to report its performance on those core measures, and that's another role for the medication safety officer," she says. "Our goal is to optimize safety and help hospitals meet those outcomes."

"It's hard to quantify what a medication safety officer brings in terms of finances, but if we look at the incidence of preventable adverse drug events, one number used is that two of every 100 admissions experience a preventable medication-related adverse event," she explains.

"The hospital cost associated with that ADE is estimated at $5,800, and there is an average increase in the length of stay of 4.6 days," Saine says. "The $5,800 doesn't include indirect costs associated with that ADE, and those costs can reach as high as more than $10,000 per admission."

A 700-bed hospital could save more than $2.8 million a year in preventing ADEs, she adds.