Study Warns of Errors in Australia's Electronic Prescribing

Computer-generated prescriptions were completed with an 11.6 percent error rate at a large Brisbane hospital, twice the 5 percent error rate computed for handwritten prescriptions by the same staff employees, it found.

A new study warns the Australian government's plan to use electronic prescribing in hospitals by July 2012 could increase medication errors unless staffers receive enough training. The study, done at a Brisbane hospital and selected acute wards in Queensland, was conducted for the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care. The study found computer-generated prescriptions were completed with an 11.6 percent error rate at the hospital, twice the 5 percent error rate computed for handwritten prescriptions by the same staff employees, Sydney Morning Herald health reporter Louise Hall reported Aug. 20. The Queensland trial was halted early, she added.

The review was published in the journal Australia and New Zealand Health Policy, which has announced it will cease publication in December 2009. The study identified "poorly designed software that automatically filled out scripts to the maximum dose and ordered unnecessary repeat courses," Hall wrote.

The commission's CEO, Chris Baggoley, said electronic prescribing can reduce medication errors and adverse events, but "there is a risk of introducing new errors if the systems are not correctly planned, implemented, and integrated into all the other systems of information operating in a hospital," according to Hall's report in the newspaper.

The journal's August 2009 issue includes part 1 of a two-part literature review examining medication errors in Australian acute care settings. The authors estimate 190,000 medication-related hospital admissions occur annually in Australia, with an estimated cost of $660 million. The review was undertaken for the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care to update a previous national report on medication safety conducted in 2002.

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