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Bob Carroll
Bob Carroll
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Can Computers Reduce Prescription Errors?

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Health Care Systems Reducing Prescription Errors. The article is promising. But there is a downside to the use of technology in prescriptions. It inroduces some risk of other errors in the processing of prescriptions. As long as humans are part of the prescribing and prescription-filling process there will be errors that go undetected.

The headline sounds positive: Health Care Systems Reducing Prescription Errors. And, the article at Electronic Prescribing News is promising. But (and there always is a “but”) there is a downside to the use of technology in prescriptions.

While it is true that technology avoids questions over doctors’ illegible scrawl, it introduces some risk of other errors in the processing of prescriptions.

More physicians in metro Milwaukee are beginning to shun pen and paper and prescribe patients’ medication electronically using wireless hand-held devices or desktop computers. Aurora Health Care, Milwaukee, has 963 physicians throughout its system electronically prescribing prescriptions, while Covenant Healthcare System Inc., Glendale, is expecting to have more than 180 physicians using similar technology in the next year.

Health care systems and physician practices are starting to use technology that allows prescription orders to be sent directly to a pharmacy via computer as a way to prevent a patient getting a wrong medication as a result of sloppy or misread handwritten orders. Computerized order entry systems also can provide immediate information about whether a prescribed drug will cause a bad reaction in a patient because of other medication the patient is taking…

However, a report in the March 9 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated computerized prescription systems might make certain medication errors more likely.

The report surveyed 261 staff members at a 760-bed teaching hospital and found examples of 22 medication errors resulting from information mistakes or “human-machine interface flaws.” Errors resulted from hospital staff members misreading small computer text to incorrect information entered into an order entry system on the availability of a drug or its minimally effective dose, according to the report.

It seems that as long as humans need to be part of the prescribing and prescription-filling process there will be errors that go undetected. Welcome to the age of “human-machine interface flaws.”