Better Communication to Make Medications Safer

Interdisciplinary project receives Canadian Institutes of Health Research eHealth Innovation Partnership Grant

Dr. Ellen Balka from SFU’s School of Communication and Dr. Corinne Hohl from UBC’s Department of Emergency Medicine and Vancouver General Hospital have been awarded a major grant from CIHR to support their research to reduce adverse drug events, the harmful and unintended consequences of medications.

Adverse drug events are a leading cause of hospital and emergency department admissions, accounting for 12% of all emergency visits. Every year in B.C., adverse drug events cause more than 240,000 ED visits, and their treatment adds approximately $90 million to healthcare costs.

Yet, up to 70% of adverse drug events are consistently identified as preventable, with 30% occurring because health care providers re-prescribe and re-dispense culprit drugs — without knowing those drugs previously caused harm.

Working at the intersections of communications, science, technology and society studies and healthcare, Dr. Balka and Dr. Hohl’s co-led project involves designing and implementing a software application, called “Pill Talk,” to promote better documentation, reporting and communication of adverse drug events.

Following an earlier Partnerships in Health Systems Improvement grant from CIHR, Balka and Hohl recently received funding from CIHR’s eHealth Innovations Partnership Program to implement and evaluate the Pill Talk software application over the next four years, with additional cash and in kind contributions from PHEMI, Vancouver Coastal Health, the B.C. college of Pharmacists and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. Numerous other organizations are also collaborating.

“Moving forward, the Pill Talk project will provide fabulous opportunities for Communication students interested in learning about participatory design of computer systems, working with diverse stakeholders, and translating research into practice,” says Dr. Balka.

So far, research has involved fieldwork in a variety of healthcare settings, along with participatory design workshops to involve stakeholders in the development of Pill Talk technology. The project draws on a diverse research team, with backgrounds in communications, journalism, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and healthcare.

For more information, contact:
Dr. Ellen Balka, Ph.D.