Researchers: CPOE averted 17.4 million medication errors in one year

Electronic prescribing through computerized physician order entry averted 17.4 million medication errors in the U.S. in a single year, according to researchers publishing in the Journal American Medical Informatics Association.

The authors analyzed data from 2006 to 2008, including the American Hospital Association's 2008 electronic health record adoption database to estimate the reduction in medication errors that they said could be attributed to CPOE.

"Processing a prescription drug order through a CPOE system decreases the likelihood of error on that order by 48 percent," the authors wrote. "Given this effect size, and the degree of CPOE adoption and use in hospitals in 2008, we estimate a 12.5% reduction in medication errors, or 17.4 million medication errors averted."

Putting a hard number on the results of any health information technology on quality improvement is a challenge--and research on the effects of HIT are often ripe  for debate.  

For example, data transfer between health IT systems can threaten patient safety perspective, according to an analysis of health IT-related safety events by the ECRI Institute Patient Safety Organization, FierceHealthIT reported earlier this month.

A breakdown of the events found that 53 percent were associated with medication management systems. Of the systems identified in such events, computerized physician order entry systems were mentioned the most (25 percent of the time).

Indeed, doctors and nurses aren't necessarily wild about the technology--nor are they convinced CPOE improves safety. A study published in JAMIA last fall, for example, found computerized physician order entry remains largely unpopular with doctors and nurses.  And although their opinions improved slightly over time, neither doctors nor nurses thought CPOE improved care overall or increased productivity.

The authors of the JAMIA study noted that "modest" adoption has hampered the potential of CPOE. "Current policies to increase CPOE adoption and use will likely prevent millions of additional medication errors each year."

Although hospital CIOs are focused on increasing adoption, Neal Ganguly, vice president and CIO of CentraState Healthcare System in Freehold, N.J., told FierceHealthIT last year that getting more doctors to use CPOE will be a challenge. Between 60 and 70 percent of his hospital's orders go through CPOE, he said, but the percentage drops to 10 percent when emergency department orders are removed.

To learn more:
- view the February 2013 study
- here's the 2012 study