Computerized prescriptions recommended to reduce medication errors.

Medication errors injure over $1.5 million Americans each year, according to a report of the Institute of Medicine released on July 20, 2006. The report further found that 400,000 of those medical-error injuries occur in hospitals and that, on average, a hospital patient is subjected to one medication error daily. Although not included in the report, other experts estimate that as many as 9,000 deaths are caused each year by medication errors. To eliminate a large portion of these medical mistakes, the report recommends that hand-written prescriptions be replaced with a computerized system by which physicians would prescribe medications and pharmacies would receives those prescription electronically.

In addition to eliminating the long-recognized problems of legibility of hand-written prescriptions, the report notes a number of other benefits with a computerized system. The Pennsylvania Medical Society supports a system linking the electronic medical records of patients with the electronic prescriptions. The prescribing physician could receive automatic alerts if the medicine prescribed might be inappropriate. The prescribing physician could also receive information about a patient’s health insurance, permitting the doctor to prescribe a drug covered by the patient’s health insurer.

The report notes that such a computerized system could be in place by 2010, but other believe such a system will take more time. In an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette by Joe Fahy, a spokesperson of the state medical society is noted as reporting that less that 10% of Pennsylvania’s physicians prescribe drugs electronically. The same is true at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which has been at the forefront of creating electronic health records.

Fahy also reports that Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh uses a paperless system of prescribing medications, which, along with other benefits, can calculate the proper dosage of a medication based upon the child’s weight. Dr. Andrew Nowalk, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s, noted that medication errors have been cut in half since the system was implemented in 2002.

Source: Institute of Medicine, Pittsburgh Post Gazette