Prescription drug errors can have a terrible effect on a person's life. If a physician prescribes the wrong medication, the wrong dose, or fails to consider drug interactions, it is the patient that suffers the harm. Many have placed high hopes in a technological solution that can prevent medication errors. The use of electronic transmission of prescriptions (instead of handwritten prescriptions) has been one suggested solution to the problem.
However, electronic transmission cannot undo a prescribing error once it has been made. A recent study shows that errors happen in as many as 12 percent of electronically transmitted prescriptions, an error rate similar to that for handwritten prescriptions.
Believing electronic health records systems can save money and increase patient safety, the federal government has handed out more than $158 million to doctors and hospitals this year in an effort to get them to use more electronic records systems. Many healthcare providers have readily switched to electronic prescription systems, but the systems are not detecting prescription errors.
The recent study analyzed 3,850 electronically generated prescriptions and found 452 medication errors, including 163 prescription errors that could have harmed the patient. Extrapolating this data across the whole country, the study found that with more than 3 billion prescriptions written each year, there could be as many as 385 medication errors each year and as many as 128 million of the errors could harm to patients.
According to the study, the most common errors happened when physicians failed to include important information, including dosage information. Other mistakes happened when prescriptions contained the wrong abbreviation or when doctors made errors about the choice of treatment.
Source: Bloomberg, "Errors Occur in 12% of Electronic Drug Prescriptions Matching Handwritten," Michelle Fay Cortez, 29 June 2011