Doctor Proposes Information Tech to Reduce Prescription Errors
A study found that drug-related errors accounted for about a quarter of all preventable patient injuries. The study estimated that between 10 percent and 15 percent of prescriptions contain errors. Many people think medical malpractice consists mainly of sensational cases, like accidentally leaving medical instruments inside a surgery patient. The reality is that medical malpractice often takes a more mundane but equally dangerous form: illegible handwriting on drug prescriptions.
For example, pharmacists often misread doctorís handwritten prescriptions and give patients the wrong dosage ó or even the wrong medication ó for their medical problems.
A study of Canadian hospitals found that drug-related errors accounted for about a quarter of all preventable patient injuries. Pharmacists in the study estimated that between 10 percent and 15 percent of prescriptions contain errors.
These errors may seem out of place in todayís digital age. In addition to illegible handwriting, many prescriptions use confusing trade names for drugs and abbreviations for timing and dosage.
Researchers say that the health care systems of Canada and the U.S. have the least developed information technology for patient record-keeping, prescriptions and other medical tasks. According to Dr. Richard Alvarez, the most significant barrier for electronic record-keeping is not financial costs, but rather the traditional work habits of medical professionals.
Some medical professionals are embracing Dr. Alvarezís efforts to reduce prescription drug errors. By computerizing the process, mistakes caused by poor handwriting, abbreviations and dosage errors could decrease substantially. Computer software could require doctors to double-check orders. A pharmacy would receive a computer printout of prescription information rather than an illegible note. Errors could still happen in manual entry of data, but in far fewer numbers.
Dr. Alvarez argues for the use of information technology across the health care system to allow any medical professionals, including emergency room doctors, to instantly view a patientís medical history for treatment purposes. This technology would allow pharmacists to check whether a doctorís prescription is inconsistent with a patientís other medical conditions, allergies or prescriptions, and alert the doctor of the problem. This is particularly important for older patients with longer medical histories and more frequent need for drug prescriptions. In addition, doctors would more easily be able to track whether patients were correctly filling prescriptions.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.