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Using AI to avoid over- and under-prescribing medicines for older NZers

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Dr Mohammed Mohammed

Dr Mohammed Mohammed

A newly funded study will seek to develop New Zealand’s first digital tool using AI technology to guide the safer use of medicines in older adults and reduce the amount of harmful or unnecessary medicines prescribed.

Clinical pharmacy senior lecturer Dr Mohammed Mohammed from the University of Auckland has received an Emerging Researcher First Grant from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) to develop this new digital tool, which aims to help healthcare providers quickly and efficiently screen older New Zealanders at risk of over-, under- or inappropriate prescribing. 

Dr Mohammed is one of 24 up-and-coming researchers to receive Emerging Researcher First Grants from the HRC to a combined value of $9.4 million. These grants support emerging talent to develop independent health research careers. They are part of a suite of career development awards that includes student scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships, the recently announced Māori and Pacific Health Research Emerging Leader Fellowships, as well as funding for healthcare professionals and clinical researchers, all awarded through a competitive and robust peer-review process.

‘‘Medicines are the most common healthcare intervention, and they make up to a third of healthcare carbon emissions1. Like many other developed countries, we have a growing ageing population in Aotearoa New Zealand. In just four years from now, about 1 million2 people will be over the age of 65, with 1 in 3 taking five or more concurrent medicines, known as polypharmacy,’’ says Dr Mohammed.   

‘‘While medicines are very helpful for the prevention and treatment of health problems, inappropriate use can lead to a range of problems such as falls, injuries, and hospitalisation in older adults. There are two major problems: prescribing a medicine that is not quite right for an elderly person, which affects about 1 in 2 older people, and/or omission of a medicine that is necessary, which affects about 1 in 3 older people,3’’ he says.

Dr Mohammed says automated clinical decision support tools can help healthcare providers to screen and manage patients at risk of being prescribed inappropriate medicines and/or those not receiving the necessary medicines by consolidating patient information from multiple health providers and data sources into one system. 

He says currently, we don’t have a robust and efficient method that can identify the spectrum of these problems to proactively screen individuals at risk of harm. Existing tools developed overseas do not account for the complexity of medicine-related problems that older adults may experience and are also not directly applicable to New Zealand as they don’t use New Zealand guidelines or pharmaceutical data.

With the help of this HRC funding, Dr Mohammed and his team will develop an all-in-one digital tool that will intelligently analyse patient health information, identify individuals at risk of harm, and provide personalised recommendations to healthcare providers at the point of care, such as alerting a doctor to start a new medicine that is necessary or to stop a medicine that is causing harm or is not helping a patient. 

“Ensuring that the tool is user-friendly is crucial, so we will seek feedback from healthcare providers and patients. We will also embed key resources into the tool so that healthcare providers can give patients customised information such as possible adverse withdrawal symptoms if a medicine is stopped and instructions for self-care,” says Dr Mohammed.

HRC Chief Executive Professor Sunny Collings says this research has the potential to transform the management of medicines for older adults in New Zealand.

“Using innovative technology to support healthcare providers – particularly GP practices and hospitals – to offer personalised, safer prescription services to our growing elderly population, and reduce medication errors and their associated healthcare costs could greatly benefit our health system,” says Professor Collings.

See below for the full list of Emerging Researcher First Grant recipients. To read lay summaries of the recipients’ research projects, go to and filter for ‘Emerging Researcher First Grants’, ‘2024’.

1World Economic Forum
2One million people aged 65+ by 2028 | Stats NZ
3Potentially inappropriate medications and prescribing omissions in hospitalised older adults in New Zealand

Recipients of the HRC’s 2024 Emerging Researcher First Grants

General category

Dr Priyanka Agarwal, the University of Auckland 
Development of a topical treatment for management of chronic wounds 
36 months, $400,000

Dr Recep Avci, the University of Auckland 
Electromagnetic tracking system for the gut 
36 months, $400,000

Dr Geke Aline Boer, University of Otago 
Hypothalamic inhibition of GIPR signalling to increase health during ageing 
27 months, $400,000

Dr Safina Gadeock, University of Otago 
Interferon-alpha targets as prognostic biomarkers for IBD patients 
36 months, $400,000

Dr Christopher Hedges, the University of Auckland 
Understanding new targets for weight loss therapeutics 
36 months, $399,844

Dr Sanjay Marasini, the University of Auckland 
Light-assisted management of fungal keratitis 
24 months, $400,000

Dr Mohammed Mohammed, the University of Auckland 
AIM-Safer: Automated Intelligence for Safer Medication use in older adults 
36 months, $399,990

Dr Mariana Muelbert, the University of Auckland 
Antenatal corticosteroids effect on Lactation and Maternal-infant health (ALMA) 
36 months, $399,972

Dr Amelia Power, the University of Auckland 
Balancing heart energetics: Diabetes, Statins and Coenzyme Q10 
36 months, $395,081

Dr Jamie-Lee Rahiri, Tuhauora Medical Associates 
Haumanu Hauora - Determining the efficacy of bariatric surgery in Aotearoa 
24 months, $288,945

Dr Vartika Sharma, the University of Auckland 
Co-creating a parental resource with migrants to support youth mental health 
36 months, $399,825

Dr Abigail Sharrock, Research Trust of Victoria University of Wellington 
Engineering enzymes to enable CAR T-cells to synergise with chemotherapy 
36 months, $400,000

Dr Marie-Claire Smith, the University of Auckland 
Design of a rehabilitation model for cardiovascular health after stroke 
36 months, $398,144

Dr Helen Waddell, University of Otago 
Atrial fibrillation: linking heart cell structure to electrical function 
36 months, $ 335,631

Dr Samuel Wardell, University of Otago 
The role of antidepressants in promoting antibiotic resistance 
30 months, $398,258

Dr George Wiggins, University of Otago 
Advancing breast and ovarian cancer prevention strategies 
36 months, $399,992 

Dr Sandra Yellowhorse, the University of Auckland 
Cultivating wellbeing by advancing Indigenous perspectives of autism 
36 months, $399,866 

Health Delivery category

Dr Sue Adams, the University of Auckland 
Nurse practitioners: Re-prioritising primary care delivery to promote equity 
30 months, $399,766

Dr Matthew Jenkins, University of Otago 
Enhancing the health and wellbeing of rangatahi experiencing early psychosis 
24 months, $399,975 

Pacific category

Dr Sarah Kapeli, the University of Auckland 
Pasifikmetrics: A psychometric measure of Pasifika mental health literacy 
36 months, $399,977 

Rangahau Hauora Māori category

Dr Eleanor Brittain, Massey University 
A Kaupapa Māori behavioural health intervention for harmful substance use 
36 months, $399,351

Dr Meri Haami, Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki 
He Whiringa Māramatanga: Kaupapa Māori music and healing 
36 months, $377,550

Mr Logan Hamley, University of Waikato 
Expanding connection: the process of reconnection for Māori youth 
36 months, $400,000

Dr Monica Koia, Massey University 
Timely access to rongoa Māori in cancer care services for Māori 
36 months, $398,771