Submitting prescriptions electronically has been lauded by the healthcare industry and policy makers alike as a way to reduce errors and costs. However, research recently published in the Journal of American Medical Information Association concludes that prescriptions sent electronically are just as likely to contain errors as ones written out by hand.
A clinical panel reviewed 3,850 computer generated prescriptions that were received by a commercial pharmacy chain in 3 states in 2008. The panel reviewed the prescriptions for medical errors and examined whether any of the mistakes could pose harm to the patient.
If the nearly 4,000 prescriptions analyzed, 11.7% of them contained some sort of error. Of all of the prescriptions, 4% had errors that could pose some sort of harm to the patient (…most were considered ‘serious’ or ‘significant’ events but none were life-threatening).
According to authors of the study, this is about the same rate of error found in handwritten prescriptions. Researchers though concede to one limitation of their findings – they were unable to determine whether a prescription was sent electronically to the pharmacist or was prepared on a computer, printed out and given to the patient.
“Although most evidence suggests enthusiasm for a more paperless system is well founded, new technology can also introduce new potential for medication errors,” comments Karen Nanji, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and one of the study’s authors.
Errors in the electronic prescriptions were highest among anti-infectives, accounting for 17.3% of the mistakes. Nervous system drugs and respiratory drugs constituted the 2nd and 3rd most common errors respectively.
Of the errors, nearly 2/3 of them consisted of omissions of important information like duration, dose or frequency. Other errors simply consisted of confusing information – like telling a patient to take the drug ‘as directed’ but not expanding any further.
One error for example included instructions for the patient to take five, 500 mg Vicadin tablets every four to six hours.
“Implementing a computerized prescribing system without comprehensive functionality and processes in place to ensure meaningful use of the system does not decrease medication errors,” the study concluded.
Authors of the study also outlined ways healthcare providers could reduce errors, like programming systems so they do not allow omission of information, incomplete drug names or inappropriate abbreviations.
Having errors on your prescription could lead to disastrous consequences, even death in some cases. If you’ve been adversely affected by an error on your prescriptions, you may be able to pursue a medical malpractice claim in Tennessee.
If you or a loved one has experienced a situation like this, it would behoove you to speak with a medical malpractice attorney in Tennessee experienced in helping patients adversely affected by prescription errors.
Under Tennessee laws, you only have 1-year from the date the prescription was issued to pursue a case and obtain compensation for medical costs, lost wages from work and damages for pain and suffering.