US Pharmacopeia, Rockville, Md., said almost one in five of the 235,159 medication-error reports it received from hospitals and health systems in 2003 involved automated dispensing devices or computerized entry by a laboratory technician, physician or other caregiver. Some 1.3% of errors involving automated dispensing devices resulted in patients being harmed, compared with 1.5% for all errors reported. Just 0.7% of errors involving computerized entry were harmful, and the frequency of harmful errors fell to 0.1% when entry systems were used specifically by the prescribers, said Diane Cousins, vice president of US Pharmacopeia's Center for the Advancement of Patient Safety.
The independent drug-standards agency said errors linked to computerized entry occurred most often when the order was transcribed or documented and when it was dispensed. In about 57% of cases, the person entering the order was distracted. At facilities using computerized order entry specifically by prescribers, the incidence of errors due to wrong dose or wrong form was slightly higher than average compared with facilities not using order entry by prescribers, the agency said. The total number of errors per 100,000 doses dispensed was about the same. -- by Joseph Conn