[LINK] E-prescriptions

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Thu Feb 2 03:05:08 AEDT 2012

E-prescriptions could slash errors in hospitals  (1st February 2012)

Electronic prescribing technology could reduce mistakes made by hospitals 
in medication prescriptions by up to 66%, a study has found.

The study of the technology in two hospitals found procedural errors such 
as incomplete, unclear medication orders fell by more than 90%. Serious 
errors, including the prescription of incorrect drugs or doses, fell by 

The results of the study, by a team from the University of New South 
Wales, are published in the journal PLoS Medicine today.

Until now, there has been skepticism about the ability of the 
commercially available technology to address intractable errors in 
prescriptions. An e-health system to be introduced by the federal 
government in July has attracted criticism that it could increase risks 
for patients.

But the study leader, Professor Johanna Westbrook, from the University’s 
Australian Institute of Health Innovation, said the research provided 
solid support for the benefits of e-prescribing systems, which allow 
doctors to enter prescriptions into computer programs that usually show 
what other drugs a patient is using.

“Prescribing errors are one of the most significant patient safety issues 
internationally,” Professor Westbrook said. “We had a lot of hope about 
this technology, but before this study there hasn’t been much evidence.

“We found there was a reduction in serious errors of 44%, which is a very 
significant result. Procedural errors went down dramatically, as you’d 
expect when there’s no handwriting involved.”

Professor Westbrook cautioned that the US-developed technology introduced 
a new range of clinical errors, typically caused when doctors chose the 
wrong option from a drop-down menu.

“But when we looked at the new errors that were introduced, they were not 
nearly as severe as the sort that we previously encountered. They were 
relatively minor and could be addressed with better system monitoring.”

A 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academics in 
America found that medication errors harm 1.5 million people in the 
United States every year. The resulting injuries cost at least $3.5 
billion in extra medical costs to treat.

“There has been some resistance to this technology here because it’s very 
expensive to introduce, and it’s expensive to change the way doctors and 
nurses work,” Professor Westbrook said. “But in the long run, this 
research shows that it is worthwhile.”

Professor of Pharmacology Ric Day, who helped implement a commercial e-
prescribing system at St Vincent’s Hospital, said that “from a 
clinician’s point of view this is an incredible result given the 
prevalence and the intractability of the problem.

“It’s even more significant given that we expect to see greater 
reductions once user support is added to the systems.”

Staff at St Vincent’s were required to demonstrate they could use the 
computer system before they were allowed to prescribe or deliver any 
medications, he said.



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