Medication Errors Can Be Reduced by Electronic Prescriptions: Study

Medication errors caused by prescription mistakes could be reduced by a factor of seven if doctors switched to electronic prescriptions, according to a new study conducted in New York. 

The study was performed by researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and published in the February issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The researchers 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. The primary benefit was the elimination of illegible handwriting, according to doctors who conducted the study.

The researchers looked at 12 primary care practices in the state of New York, six of whom switched to a system where the doctor filled out prescriptions by computer. The six practices that used e-prescriptions saw the rate of prescribing errors drop from 42.5 mistakes per every 100 prescriptions, to 6.6 errors out of every 100 over the course of one year. Practices which continued to use hand-written medication prescriptions actually saw the number of errors increase marginally, from 37% to 38%.

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The study did not find a significant difference in the number of what researchers referred to as “near misses,” mistakes that could have potentially caused actual harm to patients but were discovered before patients received the medications or did no harm when the patients took them. Facilities using e-prescriptions had a near miss rate of 1.5% at the beginning of the study and 1.3% after one year. Primary care practices without e-prescriptions saw the number of near misses rise, however, from 1% to nearly 3%.

Researchers say that the study, federally funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, was small, and recommended that more expansive studies should be conducted.

According to a 2006 report by the National Academies of Science’s Institute of Medicine, 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.


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