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Researchers pitch switch to electronic prescriptions

Medicos’ handwriting a killer

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Sydney health researchers are calling for the rapid implementation of electronic prescriptions in the country’s hospitals, to try and cut the rate of errors resulting from doctors’ poor handwriting.

According to Johanna Westbrook, director of health systems and safety research at the University of New South Wales’ Australian Institute of Health Innovation, her trials indicate that the improvement in error rates can range between 58 percent and 66 percent.

Actually, it’s not only about doctors’ handwriting. Westbrook told the ABC’s AM program yesterday that the right electronic system can also give doctors guidance about the prescriptions they intend to give a patient – for example, warning them of potential interactions patient’s existing medications.

The two electronic prescribing systems trialled in the study were Cerner’s Millennium and iSoft’s MedChart. The audit covered more than 3,200 admissions (1,900 before electronic systems were used, and 1,300 using the software in the study). The full study is reported in the open-access journal PLoS Medicine.

Westbrook believes the rate of reduction in errors could be sufficient to justify the investment required to implement electronic prescription systems.

Care is needed, however, with the design of the user interface a critical issue. Back in the late 1990s, a poorly-designed database contributed to patients being administered a caustic substance instead of a radiological contrast medium, because the wrong substance was stocked. ®

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