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Doctors Reluctant to Switch to E-Prescribing, Despite Safety Benefits

A study by researchers at the Weill Cornell Medical College found that the use of e-prescription programs greatly reduced error rates among prescribing physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. Unfortunately though, only 36 percent of prescriptions were e-delivered in 2011, despite the benefits e-prescribing provides to patients such as a reduction in medication errors.

Support for Implementing E-Prescription Programs

E-prescription programs are computer programs that allow doctors to fill prescriptions electronically. Using e-prescriptions eliminates the need for doctors to handwrite prescriptions, thus reducing the adverse drug events that may occur due to incomplete forms and illegibility.

The Weil Cornell Medical College researchers found that their participants made 37 errors per 100 prescriptions when writing by hand and only seven errors per 100 using the software. These figures do not include legibility issues.

Prior to switching to e-prescription programs, participants who were in the e-prescription sample made 88 legibility errors per 100 prescriptions while writing by hand. In studies using a wider sample, doctors who wrote paper prescriptions averaged five errors per 100 prescriptions. Seven percent of these errors cause potential harm to patients.

The Institutes of Medicine estimates that $2 billion are spent on preventable adverse drug events each year. E-prescription programs could save the country billions of dollars and keep patients safe from medication harm. Medicare Part D requires hospitals that accept Medicare to implement e-health information infrastructure in order to receive their Medicare benefits. Despite this incentive, however, some health care professionals still balk at adopting e-prescription programs.

E-Prescription Benefits Outweigh the Costs

One of the most common objections to implementing e-prescription programs is cost. Though Medicare can offset the cost somewhat, e-prescription programs cost tens of thousands of dollars to implement. Training in the proper way to use e-prescription programs can also be a barrier.

Despite high up-front costs, e-prescription programs offer significant benefits to patients since they reduce prescription errors and prevent medication errors from happening in the first place – not to mention the benefits to doctors and hospitals, namely a lower likelihood of medical malpractice.

Factors in medication errors include improper drug labeling, inadequate staffing, handwritten prescriptions and trailing zeroes on drug doses – the last two can be prevented by e-prescription programs.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a medication error caused by handwritten errors, or any other reason, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to be advised of your rights and options.