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Can Technology Prevent Medication Errors?

Medication errors, such as administering the wrong prescription, dispensing the incorrect dosage, and failing to detect adverse side effects, are some of the most common medical mistakes. Overall, medication mistakes injure more than one million people a year in the United States.

While many hospitals are implementing electronic ordering systems and other high-tech tools as a means to curb medication errors, a recent study confirms that they are far from foolproof. In fact, they may fail to detect potentially deadly drug orders.

Leapfrog Group’s study examined the effectiveness of Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) systems, which allow doctors to enter medication orders into a computer system. The system checks the medication order against patient information, such as allergies, existing medications, and lab results, and is supposed to flag any potential issues.

While CPOE systems have the potential to detect harmful medical errors, Leapfrog found that there is still a lot of room for improvement. When hospitals tested their computer systems using orders that all contained potentially harmful, preventable errors, the systems failed to detect 39 percent of potentially harmful orders. Even more concerning, the CPOE systems missed 13 percent of potentially fatal orders. The most common medication errors missed by the CPOE systems included prescribing patients the incorrect drug, ordering an incorrect dosage of a drug, and failing to conduct follow-up tests.

“Technology exists to help with detecting medical errors at the point of when you're entering drug orders in the hospital or health care settings,” Jesse Pines, directory of the Office for Clinical Practice Innovation at George Washington University, told Kaiser Health News. “But they're not perfect. They still need a lot of work.”

The study’s findings highlight that it is imperative that health care facilities have other safeguards in place to detect errors before they can cause patient harm. Safety advocates also encourage patients to speak up if they are concerned about a medication.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to medication error or other serious medical mistake, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.