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E-prescriptions could reduce serious, fatal medication errors

Think of how many times you have gone to your doctor for an illness and been prescribed an antibiotic or other drug to treat your condition. Chances are you, your kids and thousands of other Chicago residents have been prescribed a medication at least a handful of times, if not a dozen times.

With so many different medications being prescribed each day, and with so many types of medications on the market, medication errors are bound to happen. Sometimes doctors get similar sounding medications mixed-up. Other times, pharmacists misread a doctor’s handwriting. But when a patient takes a wrong medication or is told to take the wrong dose, a patient could suffer dangerous side effects or a fatal overdose.

Clearly, these mistakes should and can be prevented. The results of a recent study suggests one way offices and health care facilities can reduce these types of adverse drug events is by making better use of technology when prescribing medications.

Studies show that medication errors are much less likely to occur when a doctor uses a computer program or other software to select medications from a list of drugs. Selecting a medication on the computer instead of handwriting a prescription on paper also allows the prescription to be sent electronically to the pharmacist. This can eliminate any confusion from not being able to properly read a doctor’s handwriting.

One study published in 2010 found that there were about 37 errors for every 100 paper prescriptions issued. However, when doctors used e-prescribing software, there were only about 7 errors per 100 prescriptions issued.

While the costs of e-prescribing may be high, it could significantly reduce the number of patients who experience serious or fatal injuries caused by medication errors, making the switch to e-prescribing well worth it. It is estimated that only 30 percent of U.S. hospitals currently use e-prescribing software.

Source: New York Times, “Chicken Scratches vs. Electronic Prescriptions,” Randall Stross, April 28, 2012

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