Prescribing errors can be caught by electronic tools, study finds

March 27, 2009

Most medication errors in primary care practices are prescribing errors--many of which could be prevented by electronic tools, according to a new study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Most medication errors in primary care practices are prescribing errors–many of which could be prevented by electronic tools, according to a new study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Researchers from the American Academy of Family Physicians looked at medication-error reports from two previous studies that examined mistakes from 42 family practice physicians over 20 weeks and 401 clinicians over 10 weeks. In all, reporting came from 52 diverse private practices.

Of a total of 1,265 medical errors reported, 194 concerned mistakes in medication. Seventy percent of those involved prescribing errors, 10 percent each involved medication administration or documentation errors, 7 percent involved errors in dispensing drugs, and 3 percent involved medication monitoring errors.

The most common errors were incorrect dose, incorrect drug selection, contraindications, communication problems with the pharmacy, and insufficient information on the prescription.

In 59 percent of the cases, the errors reached the patients, but none resulted in permanent harm or death. However, monitoring was required in 8 percent of the reports, intervention in 13 percent, and hospitalization in 3 percent. Pharmacists were most likely to prevent the errors from reaching the patient (40 percent of intercepted errors), while physicians and patients caught 19 percent and 17 percent of the mistakes, respectively.

The researchers concluded that more widespread use of healthcare information, such as EHRs and CPOEs, could have prevented as much as 57 percent of the problems. Only 3 percent of participants reported using technology information in their practice.