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New tech can prevent medication errors, but not all hospitals use it

During a hospitalization, you may receive numerous medications for whatever injury or illness you suffer. Since you can't possibly monitor everything the doctors and nurses do, you must rely on them to take the time and care needed to ensure that you don't suffer any serious adverse drug events (ADEs).

To prevent medication errors, many hospitals have begun using computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems. One study shows that hospitals that use these systems have seen ADEs drop a staggering 55 percent. The data from a later study showed the drop in error rates was approximately 88 percent. If these percentages are accurate, why aren't more hospitals using these systems? A better question for you is whether the hospitals in your area are using CPOE systems.

How the system works

When a physician accesses the system in order to enter a medication for you, the CPOE provides information on you such as current medications, lab results and allergies. This information helps a doctor determine the safety of the medication chosen for you. The system should then review the prescription for potential issues that could be harmful to your health.

The data isn't all rosy, however

Researchers discovered that, in some cases, the computer system failed to warn doctors that the orders they entered could cause serious medication mistakes. One study indicated that the system missed approximately 39 percent of potentially harmful orders for medication. To put that percentage into perspective, that's two out of every five drug orders that the system failed to flag. The system also failed to flag an alarming 13 percent of potentially fatal errors.

The most common dosage or medication errors that CPOE systems failed to flag included the following:

  • Kidney function: The kidneys must process certain medications. If you suffer from impaired kidney function, you may need a reduction in the dosage to prevent harm.
  • Diagnosis: For example, if you have asthma, you shouldn't receive a beta blocker.
  • Monitoring: Many medications require monitoring of the patient to test that drug levels don't reach dangerous levels.

CPOE systems more than likely failed to flag other errors, but these were the ones that showed up most often. The bottom line is that even though CPOE systems may reduce the number of medication errors, they aren't infallible. Medical safety advocates encourage hospitals to conduct manual reviews to help ensure that fewer mistakes slip through the cracks.

What does this mean for you?

Even if the hospitals in your area use these systems, you could still suffer from a medication error. If this happened to you, you have a right to seek compensation for the harm done to you, as well as compensation for your financial losses and other damages. Medical malpractice claims often involve specialized knowledge, and when a computer system gets thrown into the mix, these cases can quickly grow complex.

If you have concerns about any of these matters, talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

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