Report: E-prescribing can reduce drug injuries

The use of electronic prescribing by physicians could avoid many of the 1.5 million annual preventable drug injuries, said the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academies of Science.

An estimate of the total annual cost of these errors is $3.5 billion.

A hospital patient can expect on average to be subjected to more than one medication error each day, although facilities report variations in error rates, said the report.

'Medication errors are surprisingly common and costly to the nation,' the institute said. It evaluated the problem of medication errors for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency of the Health and Human Services Department, at the request of Congress when it passed Medicare reform legislation in 2003.

IOM outlined a strategy that included widespread adoption of electronic prescribing and other health IT to decrease the prevalence of these errors.

For example, physicians should use personal digital assistants at the point of care to obtain detailed information on medications to decide which is best to prescribe for that patient.

The institute recommended that all prescriptions be electronically prescribed by 2010, a date which CMMS has called for in implementing the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003.

Electronic prescriptions would eliminate many of the mistakes that accompany handwritten prescriptions. The software also ties the prescription to the patient's medical history to check for drug allergies or drug interactions.

Consumers need to have better-quality information about medications and easy access to it. The report recommends that the Food and Drug Administration and National Library of Medicine work together to standardize and improve medication information leaflets that pharmacies provide and make more information available over the Internet.

In another ground-breaking study, IOM determined in 1999 that up to 98,000 people die each year because of mistakes by physicians and hospital staff. Health IT proponents, including HHS, cite those statistics to press for adoption of health IT, such as e-prescribing and electronic health records.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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