Objective The aim of this study was to determine the perceived information needs of healthcare practitioners (HCPs) in relation to reducing medication error.

The objectives were to gather, identify and list relevant perceptions from medical and pharmaceutical HCPs in primary and secondary settings. Progressive data reduction and refining techniques were used to identify the key perceived issues for consideration in information transfer so as to minimise medication error.

Setting One acute NHS foundation trust in Southern Derbyshire, one acute NHS foundation trust in Sheffield and one primary care trust in Sheffield.

Method Following ethical and managerial approval, 30 semi-structured interviews guided by hypothetical case-based scenarios were undertaken with: medical prescribers in secondary care general medicine and care of the elderly; medical prescribers in primary care; hospital pharmacists; and, community pharmacists. Following a thematic analysis of transcripts using NUDist software, a series of summary statements was established. These were ranked by HCPs according to their perceptions of the relative importance to the research objective. Key statements, as determined by the kappa test of agreement, were identified and further refined to produce questions that were explored at a multidisciplinary focus group in July 2005.

Key findings Data analysis identified that it was of paramount importance there should be a minimum dataset, including diagnosis, medication and rationale behind medication changes, which should be available to all HCPs involved in the medication aspects of a patient's care. This core information should be overseen by a multidisciplinary working party. Access to additional information should be determined on an individual basis. Further it was important that the gatekeeper of patient-specific information should normally be the general practitioner, in conjunction with properly informed and counselled patients wherever possible.

Conclusion Medical and pharmaceutical HCPs have a clear understanding of the complex issues concerning availability of patient information, and critically agree the need to share information. If HCPs are able to share relevant patient information then there is an understanding that medication error will be minimised.