The United States medical system seems to be spinning its wheels when it comes to patient safety, as Harvard researchers Ashish Jha, M.D. and David Classen, M.D. pointed out a few days ago in their article Getting Moving on Patient Safety: Harnessing Electronic Data for Safer Care in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The widespread problem of medical errors became a major topic of discussion more than a decade ago when the Institute of Medicine published a now-famous report entitled To Err Is Human. After detailing the appalling statistics of this issue, the report set an ambitious goal for the U.S. to significantly lessen the number of people injured by medical errors and adverse events.
So how far have we come in the 10+ years since that goal was set? Well, we’ve hardly left the starting gate. Consider three recent studies that Drs. Jha and Classen detail in their article. First, a review of injuries stemming from medical errors shows that the number of affected patients has stayed virtually the same in one recent eight-year period. Second, a report from the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services outlined substantial harms to Medicare patients in U.S. hospitals. Third, a study from earlier this year found that nearly one in every three patients is harmed while hospitalized.
A major downfall in current efforts to curtail patient errors, say Drs. Jha and Classen, is that most methods look for problems after they occur, instead of engaging clinicians at the time of care delivery. I couldn’t agree more. You simply can’t prevent errors by looking for signs of patient harm.
This is why, at BioPlus Specialty Pharmacy, we just went live with a new system for electronic prescribing. E-prescribing allows physicians to electronically submit an accurate, error-free prescription directly to our pharmacy. With e-prescribing, a paper prescription that the patient would otherwise carry or fax to the pharmacy is replaced by electronic transmission of the prescription directly from the physician to our pharmacy.
By investing in this technology, we will be able to lessen the risk of errors, lower costs, and improve compliance. According to data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, computerized medication order entry systems could prevent up to 84 percent of dose, frequency, and route errors in medication use. By taking questionable doctor handwriting out of the equation, there will no longer be errors due to misread writing or ambiguous nomenclature.
Patient safety is clearly of top importance, but financial benefits are a wonderful side effect of e-prescribing. Medical errors cost insurers money: lessen the number of medical errors and the costs go down. The bills rang up by medical errors could shock you. Earlier this year a study in the journal Health Affairs found that the estimated total cost of measurable medical errors in the United States is $17.1 billion annually. Of this total pie of medical errors, the biggest slice was accounted for by adverse events associated with medications.
Patient safety has always been a priority at BioPlus. We study our own medical errors, with our acceptable rate being only 1/3,000. We’re not content to rest on our laurels, though. We’re continuing to leverage technology to aim even higher. With e-prescribing at BioPlus, we’re improving patient safety and treatment outcomes, while trimming the medical costs for payers, one prescription at a time.
Stephen C Vogt, PharmD
President and CEO
Jha AK, Classen DC. Getting moving on patient safety: Harnessing electronic data for safer care. N Engl J Med November 10, 2011;365:1756-8.
van Den Bos J, Rustag K, Gray T, et al. The $17.1 billion problem: The annual cost of measurable medical errors. Health Aff 2011;30(4):596-603.