When doctors ditch pens, medical errors drop
There’s a lot of interest in health care right now in digitizing doctors’ decision-making, using computer databases to assist in diagnoses and treatments (Exhibit A: Wellpoint’s pilot project using Dr. Watson, the Jeopardy-winning super-computer, to assist doctors in the exam room). NPR flags new research that underscores how much that kind of technology could improve the quality of care we receive.
The study, published this week in the online journal PLoS One, examined medical errors at two Australian hospitals before and after implementing an e-prescribing system, where doctors use a computer to assist with ordering medications. The computer system studied here reviewed the patient’s current medications, alerted the prescriber to any potential conflicts, and then sent the order off, electronically, to the pharmacy.
When hospitals ditched pens, and switched to e-prescribing, the impact was pretty impressive. Error rates in prescriptions dropped by 60 percent, the researchers found. That’s huge, especially when you consider the scope of errors in hospital care right now. By one estimate, one in seven hospital patients will experience a mix-up in their medical experience. As the lead study author tells NPR, “People can actually read the prescribing orders now. You’re not relying on trying to interpret handwriting.” And that means more accurate, and error-free, medical care.