Study Shows Electronic Prescriptions Reduce Medication Errors

Most people know how frustrating it can be to decipher a doctor's handwriting on a prescription. While this may seem innocuous, recent studies indicate it may be a more serious problem than people think.

It is estimated that prescription errors injure approximately 1 million patients each year in the United States. Aside from poor handwriting, medication names also often sound alike or have confusing abbreviations, increasing the risk of error.

Currently, doctors have a choice of using either paper or electronic prescriptions. The electronic option requires doctor's to select medications from an on-screen list and transmit the prescription information through a computer to a pharmacy.

A recent study shows that the electronic method has a much lower error rate than the somewhat antiquated paper method. The study tracked a random sample of providers issuing prescriptions using both paper and electronic methods.

The results of the study revealed a large gap in error rates between paper and electronic prescriptions. Specifically, 37 errors out of 100 were reported for paper prescriptions, versus only seven out of 100 for electronic prescriptions.

The study also reports that when the providers using electronic prescriptions were still using paper versions, their error rates were 88 per 100 prescriptions. This shows a significant decline in errors when switching to the electronic version.

Moving to electronic medical records is the current trend among hospitals and doctor's offices. Moving to electronic medical records usually results in making the switch to electronic prescriptions as well. As of 2011, around 36 percent had switched to the electronic versions.

The somewhat small percentage could potentially be due to the expense involved with making the switch. Using electronic records sometimes also results in a longer workday, with more hours needed to enter data.

If a doctor's handwriting is illegible, it can lead to what is referred to as preventable adverse drug events. An example of an ADE is if a sloppy prescription results in a patient taking a wrong medication in addition to a medication they are currently taking. The combination of the drugs could potentially lead to tragic results.

Additionally, patients taking the wrong drugs or incorrect dosages of the right drugs may suffer minor consequences such as rashes, or major ones, including death in some cases. If a pharmacist cannot decipher a prescription, patients are also harmed by the longer wait time while the pharmacist and doctor sort the information out.

An individual who suffers an injury due to a prescription error by a negligent doctor may be entitled to compensation. In many cases compensation is available for damages to both health and finances. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can assist with obtaining any available compensation.