CPOE: a new tool in the fight against medication errors

New electronic systems may reduce the risk of medication errors.

Just about everyone cannot help but laugh about the old joke that physicians have awful handwriting. However, when illegible handwriting causes the wrong medicine to be prescribed (or the wrong amount of the correct medication), it is no longer a laughing matter, as serious injury or death can result in such cases.

According to the Institute of Medicine, medication errors most often occur in hospitals, often as much as one error per hospital per day. In order to reduce the risk of this type of error from occurring, many hospitals have turned to a technology called a Computerized Physician Order Entry program (CPOE). According to a study conducted at a women's hospital in Boston, the use of this program reduced medication error rates by 55 percent.

How CPOE works

In hospitals that have implemented CPOE, the physician or medical professional enters in the prescriptions for the patients' medications into the system. The system automatically transmits the prescription to the pharmacy electronically. Additionally, the system uses the patient's lab results, allergy information and other data to alert the physician or pharmacy of common errors with the prescription, such as drug-to-drug interactions or allergy indications. CPOE also suggests a dosage and method of administration.

According to the Leapfrog Group, a patient advocacy group, CPOE can reduce the risk of a wrong drug or dose being prescribed to a patient. Additionally, the system is effective at minimizing the risk of medication errors made by illegible handwriting, drugs with similar sounding names, and specification errors. It is especially helpful to catch any errors at the prescribing stage, as statistics show that about 90 percent of medication errors occur when the prescription is manually written down and interpreted.

Although CPOE has many benefits, it is still not widely used. According to the American Journal of Managed Care, only 1,339 hospitals in the United States use a CPOE system as of 2014 However, the use of CPOE is growing slowly but steadily, as this figure represents a 248 percent increase over 2010, as more and more hospitals adopt the technology.

If injured, get help

Although the technology is far from a cure all, any kind of help in reducing medication errors is a good thing for patients, as such preventable medication errors such as wrong dosages, drug interactions, dispensing errors and mislabeled allergy indications occur in 3.8 million inpatient admissions each year. Each error is expensive, costing the healthcare system $4,300 per event.

In Pennsylvania, patients that have been injured by a medication error may be entitled to recover compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering and other expenses in a medical malpractice lawsuit. If the error resulted in death, certain family members may also recover compensation in a wrongful death claim.

If you or a loved one have been the victim of a medication error, it is important to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Dorian, Goldstein, Wisniewski & Orchinik, P.C. can ensure that the circumstances surrounding the incident are thoroughly investigated and the parties responsible are held accountable for their negligent actions.