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‘Come hell or high water’: Moving medicine during fires and floods

Recognizing our commitment to medication safety on World Patient Safety Day.
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​Every BC Cancer patient will need to take medication at some point in their cancer journey. If incorrectly stored, prescribed, dispensed, administered or if monitored insufficiently, these life-saving medications can cause harm. In honour of World Patient Safety Day on September 17​, BC Cancer is highlighting the important role of the pharmacy team when it comes to maintaining medication safety.

“Patient safety and medication safety are indisputably intertwined, It's our role to ensure that the right patient receives the right drug in the right dose at the right time." says Dr. Lynne Nakashima, senior director, Provincial Pharmacy, BC Cancer.
According to the World Health O​rganization, who began World Patient Safety Day, environmental disasters that cause displacements, evacuations, and supply chain disruptions have the potential to exacerbate the risk of medication errors and associated medication-related harm. Last year's wildfire season and flooding displaced many British Columbians, including patients and staff, and created a situation where medication errors could have easily occurred. However, the BC Cancer pharmacy team has built safe medication systems with multiple checkpoints and with different staff members involved, in order to do their very best to ensure that the patient receives the intended and best care possible. 

​Some centre pharmacies and community oncology network (CON) pharmacies send orders and prescriptions on paper – when hospitals had to close because of fires, important paper-based documents were left behind.

“We had no way of accessing those documents and no staff in those hospitals to be able to look and advise us," says Dr. Nakashima. “The provincial pharmacy leads (PPLs) did an absolutely outstanding job of guiding and supporting the staff and they also jumped in and helped with the work itself.  They linked with the pharmacists in the CON sites affected, contacted patients to figure out what was needed and then connected with physicians and nurses to facilitate the care."

“During the floods, patients living in Chilliwack were completely cut off from the centre in Abbotsford. We had their medications in Abbotsford but needed to find a way to get them to Chilliwack. Jennifer Suess, pharmacy professional practice leader at BC Cancer – Abbotsford, figured out a way to transport them by helicopter and arrange for them to be taken to a retail store in Chilliwack where the patient could pick it up."
The flooding that wiped out highways across B.C. not only displaced patients, it also interrupted the supply chain. Pharmacy staff were challenged to get medications to patients who needed to receive their treatments on time while at the same time ensuring they could get medication from distributors and drug companies.

“We are rather practiced in dealing with drug shortages, but some drugs can't be shipped by air because they have to be maintained at a particular temperature. Other drugs we needed are classified as hazardous which means that there are particular handling and shipping requirements. So when the only highways into Vancouver are flooded and you can't get trucks through, we start to struggle with drug supplies being available. We also start to struggle with how to get medication out of Vancouver to areas like the Interior or the North. You can't just put any medication on any truck or flight – they have to meet Transport Canada regulations."
Eventually Alison Pow, pharmacy professional practice leader, BC Cancer – Prince George, and the Prince George pharmacy team were able to arrange for most drugs to safely get to their centre from locations in Edmonton or Calgary.

“The pharmacy team is an integral part of a much larger health care team," says Dr. Nakashima. “Working together, helping each other also contributes to patient safety. We are very fortunate at BC Cancer to be able to work in an environment that supports staff to provide the safest possible care."​​​​​

 
 
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