According to a recent article in the New York Times, the often joked about poor penmanship of doctors can quickly become no laughing matter. Doctors’ poor handwriting isn’t funny when a real patient’s health is on the line and the truth is that carelessness can lead to long-term harm.
Abbreviations quickly scrawled by a doctor for a pharmacist can be unintelligible to a regular person. For example, the abbreviation “o.s.” refers to the left eye while “a.s.” means left ear. While it may not sound like a big difference, two drops of ear infection medication into an eye can cause serious damage. Though doctors and pharmacists are trained to watch for possible errors like this, nothing’s foolproof.
The answer to the problem may be found thanks to technology. If handwriting is truly to blame for many medication errors then an electronic, point-and-click system should help solve the problem. Advances in medical informatics, as medical IT is called, have made it possible for doctors to electronically transmit prescriptions to pharmacists, removing the chance for chicken scratch to wreak havoc.
A 2010 study was conducted where researchers compared handwritten and electronic prescriptions. The clinic’s doctors, PA’s and nurses all used one method or the other over a set period of time while the researchers watched what happened. The results were shocking. For every 100 handwritten prescriptions, the researchers found 37 errors. For electronic prescriptions, only 7 mistakes in every 100 prescriptions were discovered. Nationwide data shows a similarly positive story with a five percent error rate in hospitals with e-prescription software.
While the data seems to clear show the benefits of electronic prescriptions, only 36% of all prescriptions in the country were filled electronically in 2011. If electronic prescriptions are the answer then why haven’t doctors been flocking to the system? Two reasons seem to stick out: cost and hassle.
Electronic prescriptions are usually part of a larger and very costly electronic medical record system. The cost of such elaborate systems can be prohibitive for smaller medical establishments. Federal funding can help ease the burden but that takes time and the medical facility must front the money at the outset.
Beyond just cost, the hassle factor is an important consideration. Shifting from a paper-based system to one that’s all computer takes time and lots of adjustment for doctors. The learning curve can even distract medical professionals from their primary job, helping to heal patients.
The healthcare industry will be faced with the decision of whether the chance to dramatically reduce prescription errors and other medical mistakes outweighs the cost and hassle of implementing new electronic medical records systems.
If you would like to speak with a Mississippi medical malpractice attorney about a potential medical malpractice claim, call Mississippi medical malpractice lawyers at Kilpatrick & Philley today at (601) 856-7800.
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