Newswise — Computer-based systems that allow clinicians to prescribe drugs electronically are designed to automatically warn of potential medication errors. A new study reveals electronic prescribing not only prevents mistakes, but is also helping to reduce health care costs.
The study by investigators at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) suggests that Massachusetts physicians using a commercial electronic prescribing system for a six month period in 2006 may have prevented three deaths and more than 400 injuries as well as saved more than $400,000 by heeding medication error alerts. The study’s findings appear in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
“Our previous research showed that most doctors ignore or reject most drug interaction alerts, calling into question the value of this technology,” says the study’s lead author, Saul N. Weingart, MD, PhD, vice president for quality improvement and patient safety at Dana-Farber. “However, these new findings show that these systems create significant value despite the high number of ignored alerts.”
The researchers reviewed 279,476 alerted prescriptions written by 2,321 ambulatory care clinicians in Massachusetts using a single commercial e-prescribing system from January 1 through June 30, 2006. An expert panel reviewed a sample of common drug interaction alerts and then estimated the likelihood and severity of adverse drug events associated with each alert, the likely injury to the patient, and the health care utilization required to address each adverse drug event. Researchers established the cost savings due to e-prescribing by using third-party-payer and publicly available information.
“The findings add support to current, national efforts to expand the use of electronic health records in ambulatory care,” says Weingart. “However, the work also shows that these systems are often inefficient. We need to develop more powerful and refined systems to better support the work of frontline clinicians.”
In addition to Weingart, the paper’s other authors are Joel Weissman, PhD, Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Thomas Isaac, MD, MBA, MPH, of BIDMC and Dana-Farber; Roger Davis, ScD, BIDMC; Michael Massagli, PhD, PatientsLikeMe, Inc., Cambridge, Mass.; Brett Simchowitz, BA, Dana-Farber; Harper Padolsky, MD, Tufts University School of Medicine and Andrew C. Seger, PharmD., Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The study was supported by a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (www.dana-farber.org) is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute.