Use of Electronic Medical Records Linked to Fewer Patient Deaths: Study

A group of California doctors say that their research shows that electronic medical records and prescriptions can prevent medical errors and save lives. 

The researchers, from the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, say that an electronic communication system in use at the hospital since 2007 has resulted in a 20% drop in the number of patient deaths. The electronic prescription study’s findings have been published online in the medical journal, Pediatrics.

The electronic system, called computerized physician order entry (CPOE), has cut the time it takes to relay prescriptions to pharmacists in half and resulted in the equivalent of 36 fewer deaths at the hospital over a year and half’s time, doctors said. Most previous studies have found either no change or an increase in the mortality rate when such systems were implemented, researchers said.

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The findings of a similar study in March by researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City found that primary care practices that switched to electronic prescriptions, or e-prescriptions, saw a seven-fold reduction in the number of preventable medication mistakes. In both studies, electronic prescriptions appeared to eliminate the misreading of doctors’ handwriting, researchers found.

About 30% of U.S. hospitals implemented CPOE in the wake of a 1999 report from the National Academies of Science’s Institute of Medicine that found medical errors accounted for between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. In 2006, the Institute reported that there are about 1.5 million medication errors every year that result in injuries. These mistakes are largely preventable and could be caused by a doctor prescribing the medication incorrectly, the pharmacy filling the wrong dosage or by nurses dispensing a different patient’s drugs.

Doctors at Lucile Packard attribute some of their success to a very careful and thorough implementation of the CPOE program, which cost about $50 million to put into place.


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