Innovative IT system that prevents prescription errors wins prestigious national prize

Posted on November 14, 2017

Richard Williams, a Senior Software Engineer at The University of Manchester’s Centre for Health Informatics has been awarded the respected John Perry Prize by BCS: The Chartered Institute for IT.

Richard Williams receiving the award from Dr Joan Trowell, (John Perry's widow).

Announced at a glitzy ceremony in early October, the prize recognises Richard’s outstanding contribution to Primary Care Computing.  Having been awarded annually since 1985 it is one of the IT industry’s most respected accolades, acknowledging innovation and excellence in computer science.

The Prize along with £500 cash was awarded in recognition of Richard’s work developing and disseminating the Smart Medication Safety Dashboard (SMASH).  This potentially life-saving piece of software was created to improve patient safety by reducing the number of prescription errors.  Such errors occur in 5% of prescriptions according to a recent study of English general practices with one in 550 considered to be life-threatening.

Richard’s work involved the development of an algorithm that trawls GP’s patient databases in search of high-risk – and possibly dangerous – prescription and/or disease combinations. Once identified, these prescriptions are flagged up to a relevant pharmacist who is able to investigate, question and where appropriate refer prescriptions back to the GP for review.

The high-risk combinations that SMASH could identify might, for example include a patient receiving a complex blend of high-strength medications that need to be carefully managed or someone who has been receiving an un-checked repeat prescription for a long time.

Alongside the digital infrastructure required to develop and implement SMASH, Richard also created an easy-to-view front-end platform.  This allows pharmacists to clearly and quickly identify any risks without the need for complex and time-consuming analysis.

SMASH is now being used by 43 active practices across Greater Manchester. Richard created SMASH by building upon previous work conducted at The University of Nottingham. The team are in the process of analysing the impact, but preliminary results look good. As of January 2017 the number of patients at risk in practices using the dashboard had reduced by 50% – a mean reduction of 21 patients per practice.

Richard was named the overall winner of the prize in the face of tough competition and now joins a respected list of previous recipients including Kate Warriner and Dr Amir Hannan.

"John Perry was pioneering in the field of primary care computing and for his work on developing the first clinical coding terminology for GPs. It’s a great honour to be associated with him, and is particularly relevant as my current research is around how researchers build, reuse and share sets of clinical codes."

Richard Williams

The Smart Medication Safety Dashboard (SMASH) was funded by the NIHR Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre and delivered by the Health eResearch Centre.  For more information please click here.