Electronic Prescriptions As Likely to Contain Errors as Handwritten Ones

According to a paper recently published in the Journal of American Medical Information Association, by Dr. Karen Nanji of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, more than 10% of electronic prescriptions contain an error, which means that prescriptions sent electronically are just as likely to contain mistakes as handwritten ones.

The researchers analyzed 3,850 computer-generated prescriptions received by a commercial pharmacy chain in three states over four weeks in 2008. All of the prescriptions originated from outpatient computerized prescribing systems used in physician offices by providers caring for patients outside the hospital. A clinical panel reviewed the prescriptions for medical errors and examined whether those errors had the potential to harm the patient.

In total, 11.7% of the prescriptions contained some sort of error, and 4% of the total prescriptions contained errors that were serious enough to potentially cause an adverse event (although none were life-threatening).

According to the authors, that's about the same rate of errors that previous studies have found are present in handwritten prescriptions. In short, electronic prescriptions may not reduce medication errors to the extent that government policymakers and health reform advocates expect.

Read more about the electronic prescription study on MedPage Today.