New Study Finds Electronic Medication Error Rates Consistent with Handwritten Prescriptions

In recent news that our Pharmacy error injury attorneys have been following, a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association found that prescriptions sent electronically to pharmacies by doctors are almost as likely to have errors as the prescription medication orders handwritten by doctors.

The study examined 3,850 electronic prescriptions that a commercial pharmacy retain chain received over a period of four weeks in 2008. Out of the 3,850 e-prescriptions studied, researches found that 12%, almost 500, contained a total of 466 prescribing errors.

The researchers noted that their findings on e-prescribing error rates are consistent with their earlier study and research for error rates on handwritten prescriptions. Out of the 466 electronic prescribing errors discovered, only one-third of them could have caused patient harm or personal injury.

According to Bloomberg, the results undermine the safety benefits expected from e-prescribing, especially as the federal government paid over $158.3 million to doctors and hospitals in the beginning of 2011 to encourage doctors to switch over to electronic health records, as a way to reduce healthcare costs and eliminate medical and medication errors. The report found that although many providers are rapidly adopting electronic health records and e-prescribing, many of the expected benefits of the electronic computerized prescribing will not take effect if the electronic prescribing applications are not able to catch medication errors, or in fact cause medication errors.

In the prescription medication error study, the researchers also found that out of the 163 potentially harmful electronic prescribing errors, nearly 60% were significant enough that they could have caused reactions such as headaches, rashes, or diarrhea, over 40% were serious enough that the could have caused low blood sugar, fainting or reduced heart rate, and none of the errors were life-threatening.

The final report stated that the most common e-prescribing errors were leaving out important data, such as the prescription drug dosage, the frequency of taking the medication, or the timing and interval of doses.

According to Jeffrey Rothschild, MD, the co-author of the report from the Center for Patient Safety Research and Practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), with over 3 billion prescriptions written every year in the United States alone, this could amount to 385 million errors every year, with 128 million of the errors having the potential to cause patient harm or injury.

Several strategies were reportedly recommended by the researchers to help eliminate prescription medication errors, like suggesting functions that would not allow the drug prescriptions to be filled in the pharmacies if there is important information missing, specific decision support to check maximum drug dosages, and calculators to clarify inconsistent quantity errors by getting rid of data entry that is redundant.

According to Karen Nanji, MD, the lead author of the study from Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medication, by providing better training and adding tools for intervention to the existing e-prescribing system, medication errors could be lowered significantly with the hopeful goal of elimination.

In Baltimore, Maryland, contact Lebowitz and Mzhen, LLC today.

Study Finds Error Rates Similar for Electronic, Handwritten Rx, iHealthBeat, June 30, 2011
Errors Occur in 12% of Electronic Drug Prescriptions Matching Handwritten, Bloomberg, June 29, 2011
New Research Finds Electronic Medication Prescription Error Rate, HealthCanal.com, June 30 2011

Related Web Resources:

Weill Cornell Medical College: Quality and Medical Informatics Division Study Shows E-Prescribing Significantly Reduces Errors, March 2010

Institute for Safe Medication Practices, (ISMP)

Institute of Medicine, (IOM)

National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention, (NCCMERP)

Related Blog Posts:

E-prescribing Usage Increases with Doctors, but Not Without Problems, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, August 2, 2010
Study Shows E-Prescribing Significantly Reduces Prescription Errors, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, April 29, 2010

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