Errors Occur in 12% of Electronic Drug Prescriptions Matching Handwritten

As many as 12 percent of the drug prescriptions sent electronically to pharmacies contain errors, a rate that matches handwritten orders for medicine from physicians, researchers said.

An analysis of 3,850 computer-generated prescriptions written over a four-week period found 452 contained errors, including 163 that could harm the patient, according to a report published today in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. The rate was consistent with past studies reviewing the risk of errors when a doctor writes a prescription and hands it to the patient, the researchers said.

The results undermine the expected safety benefits from computer-generated prescriptions, said the study authors led by Karen Nanji of Massachusetts General Hospital’s anesthesia, critical care and pain department. The U.S. paid more than $158.3 million to doctors and hospitals in the first half of 2011 to encourage adoption of electronic health records, which President Barack Obama has advocated as a way to lower health- care costs and reduce medical errors.

“Providers appear to be rapidly adopting electronic health records and computerized prescribing, and one of the major anticipated benefits is expected to be through medication-error reduction,” the researchers wrote. “Many of these benefits will not be realized if the electronic prescribing applications are not mature and either do not catch or even cause new medication errors.”

Wrong Dose

The most common error was the omission of key information, such as the dose of medicine and how long or how many times a day it should be taken, the researchers said. Other issues included improper abbreviations, conflicting information about how or when to take the drug and clinical errors in the choice or use of the treatment, the researchers said.

“With more than 3 billon prescriptions written annually in the U.S. alone, this could amount to 385 million errors each year, with 128 million of them having the potential to cause patient harm, said researcher Jeffrey Rothschild, from the center for patient safety research and practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Among the providers of electronic health records are General Electric Co. (GE), Siemens AG (SI), Cerner Corp. (CERN), Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc. (MDRX) and closely held Epic Systems Corp.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis at mcortez@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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