Hospitals’ digital drug ordering boosts safety but can lead to fatal errors

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Hospitals’ use of digital medication orders have dramatically reduced the number of dangerous drug errors, but their computer systems still fail to flag 13% of potentially fatal mistakes, a report released Thursday shows.

Medication errors are by far the most common mistakes made in hospitals — and hospital errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. Digital drug ordering is part of so-called “computerized physician order entry,” or CPOE, which was designed to address the problem.

“These findings show the transition from pen and paper to electronic ordering and prescribing is making patients safer — with the systems flagging nearly 9 in 10 possible errors,”   said Andrew Gettinger, a physician and chief safety officer in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT in an email. “But the report also serves as an important reminder to clinicians and the health IT community broadly that there is more work to do when it comes to our top priority: the health and safety of our patients.”

Research released in 1999 found CPOE reduced serious medication errors by 88%.

Ninety-seven percent of hospitals use CPOE, thanks in large part to the stimulus bill of 2009. To receive the money, CPOE is required — and must alert about errors — in the electronic health records that the Affordable Care Act pushed doctors and hospitals to use. Many doctors have complained the records are too costly, time consuming and hard to use.

 

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