Drug-Error Risk at Hospitals Tied to Computers

By Scott Allen, Globe Staff | March 9, 2005

Hospital computer systems that are widely touted as the best way to eliminate dangerous medication mix-ups can actually introduce many errors, according to the most comprehensive study of hazards of the new technology. The researchers, who shadowed doctors and nurses in a Philadelphia hospital for four months, found that some patients were put at risk of getting double doses of their medicine while others get none at all.

Doctors at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania identified

22 types of mistakes they have made because of difficulty using computerized drug-ordering, such as failing to stop old medications when adding new ones or forgetting that the computer automatically suspended medications after surgery. Some doctors interviewed for the study said they made computer-related mistakes several times a week.

The findings underscore the complexity of improving safety in US hospitals, where the Institute of Medicine estimates that errors of all kinds kill 44,000 to 98,000 patients a year.

The University of Pennsylvania researchers stressed that computers hold great potential, but said many systems are overhyped and hard to use, prompting one Los Angeles hospital to turn off its drug-ordering system altogether.

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