Vanessa Young was only 15 years old when she died suddenly of cardiac arrhythmia. The arrhythmia was an unexpected adverse reaction to a prescription drug she was taking for a stomach disorder.
At that time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had advised against prescribing the medication to patients who had conditions similar to Vanessa’s. However, in Canada, the drug was still being prescribed because there were few adverse reaction reports compared to the U.S.
After Vanessa died, her father embarked on a campaign to increase the regulation of therapeutic products in Canada. His campaign resulted in Vanessa’s Law, which made it mandatory for Canadian hospitals to report all serious adverse drug reactions and medical device incidents to Health Canada.
Vanessa’s story and associated regulations inspired the B.C. Patient Safety & Learning System (BCPSLS) to help facilitate the reporting of adverse drug reactions and medical device incidents in the province of British Columbia (B.C.).
B.C. Patient Safety & Learning System
The BCPSLS is a nonprofit, web-based tool used by health care providers and leaders to report and learn from patient safety incidents. As a result of BCPSLS’s early involvement, many hospitals in B.C. were already reporting adverse drug reactions when the Vanessa’s Law regulations were announced. However, reporting practices were inconsistent, and BCPSLS did not include any special provisions for reporting medical device incidents.
Consequently, BCPSLS teamed up with Health Canada, the B.C. Ministry of Health and B.C.’s health authorities to define a plan to ensure hospitals in B.C. were well positioned to comply with the new regulations. This partnership was key in connecting BCPSLS with its stakeholders, who were invited to participate in project planning and provide detailed input on BCPSLS’s communication and education campaign.
The campaign was a cornerstone of the project. In order to reach over 100,000 health care providers across a geography larger than neighboring states California, Oregon and Washington combined, BCPSLS developed a new Vanessa’s Law page on its website. The page featured key information and downloadable resources that hospitals and programs could use to promote Vanessa’s Law locally. Another important component of the campaign was a provincially accessible e-learning module enabling health care providers to learn what, where and why to report.
During the first six months of the campaign, the rate of adverse drug reaction reporting in B.C. exceeded the campaign’s goals — it almost quadrupled and, two years later, has remained steady. Thousands of health care providers have accessed education by completing the campaign’s e-learning module or visiting the Vanessa’s Law web page.
The Gold Quill Difference
The process of applying for a Gold Quill Award was extremely valuable. The rigor and detail required in the application encouraged us to look at the project in different ways and maintain a clear focus on our project’s objectives.
We have since used the Gold Quill application as a template when we’ve developed other large-scale communication plans.
We encourage communicators considering this award to look at the application as early as possible, ideally in the beginning stages of project planning. The objectives and measurement sections warrant particular attention, as these will help define key messages and tactics. The how-to guide was a very useful resource in helping us understand what the highest standards in communication look like.
Our partners were key to the success of this project, and we have encouraged them to consider our successes as their own.
Kim Steger is the communications specialist for B.C. Patient Safety & Learning System.