Electronic Systems and Prescription Errors

As we have mentioned before on this blog, medication errors can cause great harm to individuals. One type of medication error that can occur is a prescription error.

Some medical offices have started to use electronic systems when it comes to prescribing medications, thus using computerized prescriptions rather than hand-written ones. Some hope that these electronic systems will reduce the occurrence of prescription errors.

However, a recent study indicates that, thus far, electronic prescriptions may be failing to live up to this hope. The study was led by a physician from Massachusetts General Hospital and involved researchers from several organizations. In the study, the researchers reviewed over 3,800 computer-generated prescriptions.

The study found that around 12 percent of these electronic prescriptions contained errors. Reportedly, many of these errors were related to the omission of information. According to the study, over a third of these errors were “potentially harmful.”

Thus, this study appears to indicate that electronic prescription systems may not be leading to as low of prescription error rates as one might expect. This brings up the question: what is causing this to be the case? Some believe that this may be occurring because some medical offices may not be utilizing functions that are included in many electronic prescription systems that could potentially catch errors, such as “forcing functions.” Forcing functions prevent electronic prescriptions from being sent when certain information hasn’t been entered.

Thus, this study brings up some interesting issues and questions regarding electronic prescription systems and the implementation of such systems by medical offices. It will be interesting to see if any future studies are conducted regarding this topic, and, if they are, what results they yield. Also, it will be interesting to see how medical offices and facilities react to this study and one’s like it.

Source: The Boston Globe, “No decrease in errors for digital prescriptions,” Deborah Kotz, 30 Jun 2011