Medication errors are a common and serious problem. They account for a number of unnecessary hospital visits each year. Medication errors can cause some pretty serious symptoms in people who take the wrong medication, in the wrong amounts.
The culprit is the handwritten prescription notes scribbled by doctors. Sometimes this writing is almost illegible and leads to errors by pharmacists, healthcare providers, and patients.
Researchers have recently reported that U.S. hospitals that switched from using doctors’ handwritten prescriptions to computerized drug-ordering systems had a 66 % drop in medication errors.
The researchers reviewed the results of 12 studies. They published their results online in the journal “Health Services Research.”
According to statistics, about 25% of U.S. hospital patients experience medication errors. Errors include receiving an incorrect dosage, the wrong drug, medication at the wrong time, or no medication at all.
The report suggests that each year, medication errors injure or kill more than 500,000 U.S. hospital patients.
Illegible handwriting on prescriptions and transcription mistakes were found to cause as many as 61 % of medication errors, the researchers said.
Doctors don’t make these mistakes on purpose. They are often rushed for time and have many patients to see in a single day.
“These medication errors are very painful for doctors, as well as the patients,” said lead author Tatyana Shamliyan, a research associate at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “Nobody wants to make a mistake.”
During the course of the study, the researchers found that hospitals with the highest rate of medication errors (more than 12%) showed the most improvement when they switched to computerized drug-ordering systems.
They also found that even though the use of computerized systems cut medication errors overall, there was no drop when it came to prescribing the wrong drug.
The researchers cite that only about nine percent of U.S. hospitals have computerized prescription systems. These systems can take 12–36 months to set up in a hospital.
If you get handwritten prescriptions from your doctor, make sure the writing is legible. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to rewrite anything you can’t read. If you are hospitalized for any reason, ask what medication you are being given and get friends and family to help you match prescription names with the medication you are supposed to be taking.