A recent study published in the journal PLoS Medicine has found that there are substantially fewer errors with the use of electronic prescribing systems (e-prescribing) compared to typical prescribing methods. E-prescribing – as it is commonly known – is where prescribers order medications for their patients on a computer with the help of additional aids and prompts.

Professor Johanna Westbrook from the University of New South Wales led a study that analyzed the effectiveness of a hospital ward using the “Cerner Millennium e-prescribing system” and compared it to three other control wards using standard prescribing methods. They also studied the error rates in two other wards before and after the introduction of an electronic prescribing system called iSoft MedChart.

They focused on the number of errors in procedural (unclear/incomplete orders) and clinical (wrong dose/drug) medication orders depending on the method of prescription. The researchers found that prescribing error rates fell by more than 90% among the wards that used an electronic system.

Clinical errors dropped substantially – by 44% – in the wards using the electronic system as opposed to a clinical error drop of 16.7% among the control wards. A branch of errors known as “System-related errors” – for example a prescriber accidently selecting the wrong drug from the menu list – accounted for 35% of the errors in the wards using an electronic system.

Every year thousands of people die because of medication errors. This study sheds light on a possible alternative to hand-written scripts, the introduction of electronic prescribing systems is a potential alternative to current prescribing methods and may help lower the number of clinical errors in health-care settings.

The authors state that although the study has limitations, the “Implementation of these commercial e-prescribing systems resulted in significant reductions in prescribing error rates with a significant decline in serious errors observed.”

They add

“System-related errors require close attention as they are frequent, but are potentially remediable by system redesign and user training.”

The authors conclude

“Importantly, the results highlight the need to continually monitor and refine the design of these systems to increase their capacity to improve both the safety and appropriateness of medication use in hospitals.”

Written by Joseph Nordqvist