May 4, 2009 By Blake Harris
According to statistics published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, U.S. researchers estimated medication errors affect at least 1.5 million people every year and cost the health-care system in the U.S. between $77 billion and $177 billion US annually. In fact, medication errors account for 78 per cent of serious medical errors in intensive care.
To reduce such errors, doctors and medical researchers have suggested a number of strategies over recent years. These generally include eliminating extended work schedules for physicians, computerizing orders and intravenous devices, and having pharmacists participate in the ICU.
Perhaps the easiest of these to accomplish would be the introduction of electronic prescribing systems. So it is not surprising that the Institute of Medicine has called for the use of electronic prescribing systems in all health care organizations by 2010.
However, the benefits of these prescribing systems for patients is not so clear cut according to new research published in the May issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
"Although we found that the implementation of an electronic prescribing system at our institution had no substantial impact on the rate of medication errors, we did see considerable gains in efficiency for the ordering process," said William M. Stone, MD, FACS, of Mayo Clinic Arizona.
"Patient safety is not simply reducing the number of medication errors," he added in a news statement. "The use of this system makes obtaining treatment more efficient, could significantly lower health care costs and may also improve patient outcomes. Further study will show if these are additional benefits."
At Mayo Clinic Hospital (where the research was done), before the implementation of the electronic prescribing system, the time required for a provider to place an order was 41.2 minutes. With the system, this time decreased to only 27 seconds. Additionally, personnel were no longer required to clarify and transcribe written orders into an accessible format. Due to the decreased work load, 11 of 56 (19.6 percent) personnel positions were eliminated, translating to a yearly financial benefit of $445,500. The total capital cost for the implementation project was $2.9 million, with additional operating cost of $2.3 million, per the study.
The researchers suggest that additional software enhancements and more user-friendly platforms will prompt more hospitals to adopt electronic prescribing systems.