data-driven-public-policy.jpgEvery year, 250,000 Australians are admitted to hospital due to problems with their medicines. That’s more than the entire population of Hobart. This problem not only causes unnecessary suffering for the patients; it’s also hurting our national health system, costing $1.2 billion a year. Promisingly, we know that half of these errors are preventable. But how?

This is just one of several critical health issues being innovatively tackled by the University of South Australia’s Quality Use of Medicines & Pharmacy Research Centre (QUMPRC) led by its director, Professor Libby Roughead. The QUMPRC analyse large-scale data about medicines in order not only to find problems with medicines but suggest solutions.

What truly sets the QUMPRC’s work apart from other data-examination programs internationally is that it’s one of the few to offer a cross-disciplinary solution. That means interventions are informed by data acquisition and analysis, as well as clinical and consumer feedback and underpinned by behavioural psychology.

In 2004, for example, the QUMPRC was contracted by the Australian Government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs to pinpoint ex-servicemen and women at risk of having problems with their medication. Through the Veterans’ MATES program (Medicines Advice & Therapeutics Education Services) program they’ve provided health care education and advice to 300,000 veterans and 33,000 GPs, as well as all the pharmacies and aged-care facilities in Australia. (See here for the full story.)

In 2012, building on the concept of data informing practice and policy, the Department of Health initiated reviews of medicines that brought significant savings to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. And the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration uses one of the data algorithms developed by QUMPRC to detect signs of adverse effects from medicines.

But, of course, these problems are not just confined to Australia. As medical breakthroughs have helped people live longer, the world’s population is becoming increasingly aged, inevitably adding more patients to strain every country’s medical facilities. Governments are forced to deal with not only the rising cost of procurement but the systematic overuse of some medicines.

For example, Australians are the second-highest users of anti-depressants in the world, whilst the Netherlands use half the antibiotics we do per capita. To address these issues, Professor Roughead and the QUMPRC is working with the World Health Organisation to develop resources to help countries use data to inform their health-care policy. Health Canada and the Korea Institute of Drug Safety have been early adopters of the algorithm for signal detection of adverse effects from medicines and the QUMPRC is working very closely with our neighbours in the Asia Pacific region to develop research networks to improve medicine safety.

Encouragingly, this data-driven approach has already improved health outcomes for the aged by reducing hospitalisations for heart failure, bleeds, confusion, hip-fracture and pneumonia, as well as preventing premature death.