Electronic prescribing creating new types of errors

March 1, 2005

Computerized physician order entry systems have the potential to reduce the number and severity of medication errors, but not eliminate them entirely.

Computerized physician order entry systems have the potential to reduce the number and severity of medication errors, but not eliminate them entirely. Indeed, the latest U.S. Pharmacopeia report on medication errors found that computer entry was the fourth-leading cause of errors in 2003, reported American Medical News (1/24/05). (The top three leading causes of errors were: (1) performance deficit, (2) procedures or protocols that were not followed, and (3) inaccurate or omitted transcription.)

Patient safety experts note that the news emphasizes the need to seek input from physicians on electronic systems and to provide extensive training on their use. Kwabena O.M. Abudofour, MD, author of "Strategies to Reduce Medication Errors in Ambulatory Practice" (Journal of the National Medical Association, 12/04), noted that any electronic system must be tailored to the physicians who use it. He also pointed out that these systems need time to work all of the bugs out, but are nonetheless useful.

Despite the concerns raised about computer prescribing systems, the USP report noted that such systems were less likely to lead to patient harm. More than 7,000 reports of this type of error were collected in 2003, but only 0.1% of them actually harmed patients.