Electronic Prescriptions Help Prevent Injuries and Reduce Costs

Computer-based systems that allow clinicians to prescribe drugs electronically are designed to automatically warn of potential medication errors. A new study revealed electronic prescribing not only prevents mistakes, but is also helping to reduce health care costs.

The study by investigators at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) suggests that Massachusetts physicians using a commercial electronic prescribing system for a 6-month period in 2006 may have prevented three deaths, more than 400 injuries and saved more than $400,000 by heeding medication error alerts. The study’s findings appear in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

“Our previous research showed that most doctors ignore or reject most drug interaction alerts, calling into question the value of this technology,” Saul N. Weingart, MD, PhD, vice president for quality improvement and patient safety at Dana-Farber and the study’s lead author, said in a news release. “However, these new findings show that these systems create significant value despite the high number of ignored alerts.”

The researchers reviewed 279,476 alerted prescriptions written by 2,321 ambulatory care clinicians in Massachusetts using a single commercial e-prescribing system from January 1 through June 30, 2006. An expert panel reviewed a sample of common drug interaction alerts and then estimated the likelihood and severity of adverse drug events associated with each alert, the likely injury to the patient and the health care utilization required to address each adverse drug event. Researchers established the cost savings due to e-prescribing by using third-party-payer and publicly available information.

“The findings add support to current, national efforts to expand the use of electronic health records in ambulatory care,” Weingart said. “However, the work also shows that these systems are often inefficient. We need to develop more powerful and refined systems to better support the work of frontline clinicians.”

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