Documentation of adverse drug reactions must improve for the new law in Canada - Vanessa's Law, or Bill C-17 - to be effective, argues a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Bill C-17, passed in November 2014, gives the Canadian government stronger powers to recall drugs that have adverse reactions and thereby increase drug safety. Health Canada is seeking public input on drug safety information until May 25 in connection with the new law.

"Lack of documentation of adverse drug reactions by health care providers may minimize any gains that might be achieved from compulsory reporting, unless better documentation rates can be achieved," writes Dr. Corinne Hohl, an emergency department physician at Vancouver General Hospital and a researcher with the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, Vancouver, BC.

Current adverse drug reaction reporting systems are not widely used by clinicians, and few adverse events (less than 5%) are reported. As well, reactions may happen in a different setting than where the drug was prescribed or dispensed - for example, on a hospital ward after a drug was dispensed in the emergency department - making tracking challenging.

The authors recommend that documenting adverse drug reactions be easy and accessible across various health care settings.

"Reports for adverse drug reactions must be simple and quick to complete, and support clinical decisions at the point of care."

"Vanessa's Law can strengthen Canada's drug safety environment. However, it needs to be strengthened through specific regulations that mandate the implementation of reporting infrastructure that is seamlessly integrated into electronic medical record systems," the authors conclude.