E-Prescribing Systems Can Help Reduce Drug Errors, Study Finds

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The implementation of commercial electronic prescribing systems led to significant reductions in medication errors, according to a study published in PLoS Medicine, MedPage Today reports (Ullman, MedPage Today, 1/31).

Study Methodology

For the study, researchers from the University of New South Wales examined medication errors that occurred before and after the implementation of e-prescribing systems at two teaching hospitals in Sydney, Australia. They examined 3,291 patient records for medication mistakes such as:

  • Clinical errors;
  • Incomplete or unclear drug orders; and
  • Incorrect drug or dosing.

Study Findings

The study found that medication error rates declined by between 58% and 66% in three hospital units that adopted e-prescribing systems, compared with units that did not implement the systems.

Researchers said the study shows that e-prescribing leads to a "statistically significant reduction in total prescribing error rates by more than 55%, driven by the substantial reductions in incomplete, illegal, and unclear orders" (Lohman, Computerworld Australia, 2/1).

Computer-Related Errors

However, the researchers noted that e-prescribing systems sometimes can contribute to medication mistakes.

Johanna Westbrook -- lead author of the study and director of the Centre for Health Systems and Safety Research at the University of New South Wales -- said that about 35% of the medication errors that occurred after the installation of the e-prescribing systems were related to software design.

Westbrook noted that electronic systems can lead to errors "that would never occur on paper," such as selecting the wrong option from a drop-down menu (Burnham, "Shots," NPR, 1/31).


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