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Medication errors raise concerns of healthcare electronic systems

Every day, more and more healthcare providers and institutions in Rhode Island and throughout the U.S. are using electronic systems for record keeping. While many praise the implementation of electronic records, some say that the potential of widespread prescription mistakes is increased. The wrong code selected or a number typed wrong could result in a patient receiving the wrong drug or an incorrect dosage of a drug. A problem in the software itself could multiply this problem, issuing the wrong dosage to every patient on that drug who is in the system.

While such a scenario may sound like the plot of a novel or movie, this has already happened in Rhode Island. This has caused one critic to raise the question of how well these systems have been designed. While he is not opposed to the use of electronic records, saying that they can assist in detecting potential health risks and duplicate tests, he does believe that caution should be used in installing such programs.

The Rhode Island incident occurred when a software program at a hospital issued prescriptions that were incorrect. Thousands of patients were apparently given these prescriptions before the discrepancy was discovered. An FDA spokesman said that such medication errors are not common; the agency reports that six people died and 44 people were injured as a result of computer errors.

As doctors and hospitals plan to install medical software, it would be wise for them to carefully consider all software programs before choosing one. They should research the program to determine if it has caused problems in other healthcare centers. If software has been implemented already, they may want to re-examine that program's effectiveness. After all, their patients' well-being and lives depend on it.

Source: Kaiser Health News, "Health Technology's 'Essential Critic' Warns Of Medical Mistakes," Jay Hancock, Feb. 18, 2013

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