by Johanna Smith, UMN Law Student, MJLSTStaff
A new study published online on February 20, 2013 in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association found that when hospitals used electronic prescribing, it prevented 17 million drug errors–and if implemented more widely and consistently, it could prevent more than 50 million drug errors. But as of 2008, only about one in three acute care hospitals used electronic prescribing. Although there are various methods suggested to improve healthcare quality, one of the simplest is to make medical errors public. If hospitals, and the general public, were more aware of the safety benefits of electronic prescribing, this could lead to increased use and standardization. Another option to increase the use of electronic prescribing is to connect funding or reimbursement to the use of electronic prescribing.
An article in the January 23, 2013 Journal of the American Medical Association reported that once Medicare and Medicaid stopped reimbursing costs due to certain medical errors, the number of times a foreign item was left in a surgical patient dropped by half. The authors note that this number may not be truly accurate, since the hospitals would have financial incentives to hide the errors. Currently, reporting relies mainly on self-reporting by the hospitals, which is not always accurate. A new article in the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology (MJLST) by John R. Grout, John W. Hill, and Arlen W. Langvart entitled “Mistake-Proofing Medicine: Legal Considerations and Healthcare Quality Implications,” discusses how to mistake-proof medicine and looks at healthcare quality on a broader level, including electronic prescribing. The MJLST article highlights that many hospital administrators are concerned more with the finances of the hospital than with patient safety. Connecting these two items increases the probability that patient safety will become a priority for hospitals. Although electronic prescribing is not a complete fix for incorrect prescriptions, it is an important part of improving the process. Compared to the cost of medical errors–including incorrect prescriptions–mistake-proofing is generally less expensive.