Half of Medication Errors Found In PA Study Involve HIT Issues

A new study by a Pennsylvania healthcare organization has found that computerized order entry systems and pharmacy systems were the most commonly reported factors contributing to medication errors in the state.

The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, an independent agency tasked with finding and reducing the rate of medical errors in the state, recently released a report on medication errors reported to the agency during the first six months of last year. Under state law, Pennsylvania-based providers cutting across several categories, including hospitals, ambulatory surgical facilities and birthing centers, are required to disclose adverse events and “near misses” to the agency.

Between January 1 and June 30, 2016, the state’s healthcare facilities reported 889 medication-error events which cited health IT as a factor in the event(s). The errors most often reported were dose omission, wrong dose or overdosage and extra dosages, while CPOE and pharmacy systems-related problems were the most commonly reported health IT issues. (High-alert medications such as opioids, insulin and anticoagulants – which pose a higher risk of harm if misused – occupied three of the top five drug categories involved in most events.)

When they analyzed the data, agency analysts found that health IT-related errors took place during every step of the medication use process, and worse, most of those errors affected the patient directly, the data suggested.  And things may get worse before they improve. To hear agency officials tell it, HIT-related medication problems have become more common as health IT infrastructures have matured.

“As more healthcare organizations adopted EHRs and such systems became increasingly interoperable, the Authority observed an increase in reports of HIT-related events, particularly in relationship to medication errors,” said agency executive director Regina Hoffman in a prepared statement.

The Authority’s data doesn’t gibe completely with other research. For example, a report by the Leapfrog Group and Castlight Health notes that CPOE use has been very effective at reducing medication error rates. The report specifically refers to a CPOE study led by David Bates, MD, chief of general medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, in which rates of serious medication errors fell by 88 percent during the period studied. Elsewhere, Leapfrog has cited studies in which CPOE use seems to have cut hospital lengths of stay, as well as major reductions in pharmacy, radiology and lab turnaround times.

On the other hand, the same report notes that CPOE systems still have a long way to go before they realize their potential. According to the 2015 Leapfrog Hospital Survey, hospitals’ CPOE systems failed to flag 39 percent of all potentially harmful drug orders, as well as 13 percent of potentially fatal orders. So it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that CPOE-using Pennsylvania hospitals are still having medication errors fall through the cracks.

It’s also worth pointing out that doctors don’t necessarily see CPOE systems as their best friend either. A study published last year in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that physicians who use EMRs and CPOE had lower satisfaction with time spent on clerical tasks and higher rates of burnout. Of course, given that the study lumps CPOE use in with EMR use, the results are somewhat skewed, but it’s still a data point worth considering.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.