E-prescribing is safer than sloppy handwriting

MedicineNet.com reports that approximately 1.3 million people are harmed each year following a medication error in the United States. A medication error is defined as "any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient or consumer." Such errors are a product of health care procedures, practices and systems.

A recent study has determined that medical prescription errors are less likely when a doctor clicks to select medications from an onscreen list and electronically sends the prescription data via a computer to a pharmacy. Sources report that the electronic method is significantly more effective than handwritten prescriptions.

A professor of medical informatics at Weill Cornell Medical College led a study in which she and four colleagues tracked prescriptions issued by a sample of medical professionals in outpatient settings. Some respondents prescribed electronically, and others continued to use paper.

Researchers found an average of 37 errors for every 100 paper prescriptions. On the other hand, there were approximately seven per 100 for those who used e-prescribing software. The study did not document legibility issues, when the pharmacist was unable to decipher handwriting and called the provider for clarification. However, an illegible prescription requires time to sort out. This is problematic in urgent situations when a delay could result in patient injury.

David W. Bates, a professor at the Harvard Medical School, notes that the number of hospitals using e-prescribing is growing, but only about 35 percent have made the change. While e-prescribing seems to be beneficial, electronic health records can cost a medical practice thousands of dollars. The stimulus package passed in 2009 aimed to ease the financial burden for transitioning doctors; however, the payments are tied to Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, which make upfront costs substantial.

In addition to costs, workflow serves as an issue as more time may have to be added to the workday to enter data. Nevertheless, reducing prescription errors with electronic means comes down to more than just the elimination of sloppy handwriting. Software can match prescriptions against a patient's electronic health record and check for adverse interactions, thus preventing medical problems.

While it may take time before e-prescribing becomes the norm, any effort to reduce medical errors is encouraged by the health industry. If you suffered an injury from a medical or prescription error, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. As you deal with the consequences of health care negligence, you deserve compensation.