A new Institute of Medicine report estimates that 1.5 million U.S. patients are harmed every year by medication errors, and that information technology and patient education are the best ways of preventing them.
Studies assessed by the IOM panel found that 450,000 preventable errors occur each year in hospitals, 800,000 in long-term care facilities like nursing homes, and 530,000 during outpatient care of Medicare recipients. The IOM concluded that the numbers in each study were probably underestimated.
The number of people who die from such errors was not included in the report, but estimates range from 7,000 to 50,000. The report estimated the cost of medication errors in hospitals alone could have topped $3.5 billion.
Rick Spurr, CEO of e-prescribing company Zix, said that the report isnt making any ripples in the medical or vendor communities because its content is not surprising. The group that does seem to be responding to the news, he said, is investors.
He speculated that the report would make more politicians and employers aware of technology solutions to the problem, which would lead to greater adoption.
The report recommends that all prescribers and pharmacies manage prescriptions electronically by 2010.
According to SureScripts, a nonprofit organization that helps pharmacists connect electronically to doctors offices, e-prescribing was growing rapidly even before this endorsement.
Pharmacies are ready to receive electronic prescriptions in 47 states, he said, but even doctors supplied with electronic health records arent transmitting prescriptions electronically, often because they have not yet updated their systems.
SureScrippts spokesperson Rob Cronin said that putting a deadline on e-prescribing could help spur faster adoption.
In late June, SureScripts announced that Practice Partners EMR had become the most recent system able to communicate electronically with local pharmacies.
“The parade of EMR vendors getting certified for e-prescribing continues,” said Cronin, at the time. “In the past month alone, we have connected Cerner, Medical Communication Systems and athenahealth to the network.”
Even before the report, the state of Illinois had been considering making e-prescriptions mandatory, and Massachusetts had launched an aggressive campaign to get physicians to adopt the necessary technology.
E-prescriptions could be tied into a patients medical history and automatically check for allergies, drug interactions and excessively high doses.
They could also keep information from getting lost between “hand-offs,” as when a patient leaves the hospital to return to a regular doctor.
The report also said that information technology should be employed routinely to keep clinicians up-to-date on guidelines and medical advances.
“Doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, for example, cannot possibly keep up with all the relevant information available on all the medications they might prescribe—but with todays information technologies they dont have to.”
The IOM also warned providers to be alert to errors that could be introduced by computer systems both within hospitals and outpatient settings.
Patients also need to understand the medications that they are taking. The report says the health care system is paternalistic and too often fails to communicate with patients or listen to them.