Hospital survey finds problems with electronic drug monitoring

Most hospitals and clinics in Arizona and other parts of the country use sophisticated electronic systems to monitor the medications administered to patients. Only heart disease and cancer result in more Americans dying each year than medical mistakes, and many believed that using computerized systems to track and monitor drug orders would reduce the burdens placed on busy doctors and nurses and eliminate many of the deadliest medication errors. However, a survey of more than 1,700 hospitals carried out by the nonprofit watchdog organization The Leapfrog Group has found that these systems may not be working nearly as well as experts had hoped.

While the electronic medication systems studied by Leapfrog were able to raise flags when patients were prescribed a potentially dangerous combination of drugs, they failed to issue warnings about possibly harmful drug orders approximately 40 percent of the time. Harmful drug orders include patients being prescribed the wrong medication or an incorrect dose of the correct medicine. The nonprofit group claims that as many as 13 percent of the errors missed by the systems could have led to patient deaths.

These findings will likely come as a major disappointment for patient safety advocates. Data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reveals that about 5 percent of hospital patients suffered harm due to some sort of medication error in 2015, and the federal agency determined that the majority of these mistakes could have been prevented. Medical professionals have criticized some electronic safety systems for being so difficult to use that they actually make mistakes more likely.

Many of the most common prescription errors are made by harried doctors or nurses struggling to cope with heavy workloads. While these pressures may be unavoidable in some cases, they could also be caused by staff reductions implemented in order to reduce overhead and meet financial goals. Attorneys with medical professional negligence experience may call upon hospital administrators or other experts to determine if a sufficient number of practitioners were on duty when mistakes occurred.