Computers May Help Kentucky Doctors Reduce Medication Error Rate

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Medication errors are expensive, harmful, and sometimes deadly, and they occur far too often. An Institute of Medicine report cited by Right estimates that each year, medication errors cause about 7,000 deaths.

A number of factors contribute to medication mistakes—the patient’s memory or vision; mix-ups between similar-looking medications or medications with similar-sounding names; or illegible scrips, to name a few. Technology exists that can significantly reduce the number of medication errors due to scrips that are misread.

Streamlining Communication

We all know that doctors’ handwriting is often atrocious, even illegible. In truth, doctors are discouraged from using a signature that is too easily forged. Their adherence to this advice unfortunately contributes to the incidence of medication errors. Pharmacy staff either may not be able to read the doctor’s writing, or they may misread it, perhaps filling the prescription with a medication that is spelled like the one the doctor intended but is for a completely different condition.

Computerized provider order entry, or CPOE, enables healthcare professionals to enter medication orders electronically. According to, CPOE can be incorporated with other information, such as patients’ allergies, known health problems, and other medications being taken. Not only can this system reduce the mistakes caused by handwritten prescriptions, it will also alert the healthcare professional to drug interactions and other potential medical problems.

Obstacles to and Incentives for Implementation

Although CPOE seems to be an ideal method of reducing medication errors, implementation of the system has been slow to occur because of

  • the disruption to existing care settings and routines; and
  • the cost of implementation, including staff training.

The federal government has established a reward/penalty program to encourage meaningful use—use of electronic health records (HER) and associated technology—within healthcare organizations. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 states the following:

  • A healthcare organization that is eligible for the Medicare EHR Incentive Program may receive payments if it has established meaningful use by 2014.
  • Organizations that are eligible and do not achieve meaningful use by 2015 could be penalized.
  • Eligible organizations that achieved Stage 1 meaningful use for a minimum of 90 days within FY 2011 or 2012 and for the following year may receive maximum reimbursement.
  • Eligible organizations must incorporate meaningful use by 2016 to receive incentive payments.

Incentives and penalties aside, healthcare organizations should consider the following conclusion from a study by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the New England Healthcare Institute. The study revealed that although CPOE systems would cost $2.1 million to  implement and $435,000 annually to maintain, they could save healthcare organizations as much as $2.7 million each year.

A Kentucky medication mistake can cause discomfort, disability, and even death. Victims of such mistakes need a competent attorney who handles Kentucky medication error cases. Get in touch with Gray and White Law at 502-210-8942 or toll free at 888-450-4456 to set up a FREE, no-obligation consultation.