Talk about perfect timing. Just months after the Institute of Medicine issued its scathing report on medical errors, the effort to deliver prescriptions in a safer manner appears poised to benefit from new technology just becoming available in the marketplace.
The movement to improve patient safety has gained a high profile following the IOM's recommendations, with responses coming from providers as well as Congress and President Clinton. Although some ideas are well intentioned, too many focus on reporting and blaming approaches that have raised fears that they would subject physicians to increased liability.
So what if there were ways to prevent medical mistakes that didn't have to rely on increased reporting of adverse events? In fact, what if these technologies prevented errors before they occurred?
That seems to be the case with the use of computerized prescription ordering systems, according to an exciting new study. Peter Nightingale and his colleagues at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom report that banishing the prescription pad from the renal unit in a teaching hospital significantly cut medical errors there.
During an 11-month period, the unit used a system that sets off a warning signal when it detects a potential problem in a new drug prescribed by a physician. Of almost 88,000 prescriptions for more than 1,600 patients in the test period, the system detected 58 unsafe prescriptions and issued more than 700 serious warnings about medications.
With evidence mounting that automating the prescription process can cost effectively ensure that scripts are complete and legible and that transcription errors can be eliminated, physician executives should push for adoption of such systems in the hospitals and clinics where they practice. There's no time to waste.