electronic prescriptions just as prone to error as handwritten

Frequently when the subject of medication errors is examined, experts inside and outside of the health care field recommend increased use of electronic prescriptions. The recommendation makes sense when one considers that illegible handwriting by doctors can dramatically increase the likelihood of a pharmacy or prescription error when a prescription is filled. Many hospitals, doctors’ offices and pharmacies are maximizing their use of electronic prescriptions with the goal of reducing the chances of a medication error.

Unfortunately, a new study has found that medication errors are occurring at approximately the same rate in electronic prescriptions as they are in handwritten prescriptions.

According to a report recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, approximately 12 percent of prescriptions delivered electronically to pharmacies have errors in them. This is the same rate of error found in handwritten prescriptions. Pennsylvania medication error attorneys have noted that this study only reports the rate of errors made by the prescribing physician, and does not take into account any additional errors made by pharmacies after the prescriptions have been received.

The researchers examined electronic prescriptions over a four week interval and found that of the 3,850 prescriptions delivered, more than 450 contained errors. Of those errors, 163 were critical enough to potentially cause serious harm to the patient taking the medication.

Past studies found that handwritten prescriptions contained errors at a similar 12 percent rate.

The most frequent errors in electronic prescriptions were omissions, such as a failure to indicate what dose should be administered, how long the medication should be taken, or at what time of day the medication should be taken. Other common errors included prescribing inappropriate medications or using incorrect abbreviations in prescriptions.

The researchers pointed out that there are more than three billion prescriptions written every year in the U.S. The 12 percent error rate would translate to 385 million errors every year. If the errors were substantially harmful at the same rate as was found by the AMIA research, 128 million people could be at risk of suffering preventable harm due to prescription errors.

Doctors and pharmacies who fail to uphold their duty to protect patients’ safety may find that patients are forced to seek compensation through medical malpractice lawsuits.

Source: Bloomberg “Errors Occur in 12% of Electronic Drug Prescriptions Matching Handwritten” 6/29/2011

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