drug syringe.jpgMedication errors are a prominent type of catastrophic medical mistake. Some estimates say one in 20 hospital patients suffers some sort of harm when given a drug.

To guard against such potentially deadly errors, many hospitals have adopted a computerized physician order entry system when prescribing medicines for patients. Unfortunately, such systems are not foolproof.

The process to administer medicines to hospital patients involves many steps, including:

  • Ordering the correct drug, dosage and frequency
  • Understanding the physicians’ order correctly
  • Dispensing the medicine after checking for potential harmful complications, such as patients’ allergies
  • Administering the correct medicine to the correct patient

Possible Problems in the Medicine Administration Process

CPOE systems replace traditional handwritten orders from a doctor. A physician enters a drug prescription into a computer, which can be matched against patient histories. These systems are designed to avoid several potential trouble areas in the drug delivery process, including illegible handwriting, confusion over similar drug names, and possible drug interaction dangers.

Computerized Systems Miss Many Fatal Drug Mistakes

Leapfrog, an organization whose goal is improving health care safety in the United States, recently examined the use of CPOE systems in the nation’s hospitals with a voluntary test. It asked hospitals to input phony orders that contained preventable medical errors. Of all the hospitals participating, their systems:

  • Failed to catch 39 percent of “potentially harmful” physician drug orders
  • Failed to catch 13 percent of “potentially fatal” physician drug orders

Leapfrog has a quality standard for CPOE systems. It says, at a minimum, CPOE systems should catch half of all serious drug prescription errors. Leapfrog reports that 59 percent of Missouri hospitals that participated in testing met the CPOE standard. For Illinois hospitals it was a higher, at 74 percent.

CPOE systems have been credited for reducing serious drug mistakes. But as with all technology, problems still occur, most stemming from the human operators. It’s been estimated that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, and drug errors today represent a significant portion of them.

When a preventable medical error is made, and a hospital patient suffers serious or fatal injuries as a result, an attorney who represents victims of medical malpractice can investigate and seek just compensation from those responsible.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.