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The Effects of Electronic Prescribing by Community-Based Providers on Ambulatory Medication Safety

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Background: US federal policies are incentivizing use of electronic prescribing (e-prescribing) to improve safety. However, little is known about e-prescribing's actual impact on medication safety over time. A study was conducted to assess the effect of implementing a commercial electronic health record (EHR) with e-prescribing on rates and types of prescribing errors. Understanding safety effects from e-prescribing will be important as providers increasingly e-prescribe.

Methods: Prescriptions written by 20 community-based primary care providers in the Hudson Valley region of New York from November 2008 to November 2009 were retrospectively studied. All providers adopted a commercial EHR with robust clinical decision support and extensive technical support to aid in prescribing. Errors were identified by standardized prescription and chart review.

Results: Some 1,629 prescriptions were analyzed at three months postimplementation, and 1,738 prescriptions were analyzed at one year postimplementation. Use of e-prescribing resulted in relatively low error rates (6.0 errors per 100 prescriptions). These rates were sustained over time but without further improvement (6.0 versus 4.5 errors per 100 prescriptions, p = .15). Antibiotics were the class of medications most frequently involved (12.7% of overall errors), and direction errors were most common (24% of errors).

Conclusions: This study is the first, as far as known, to quantitatively evaluate prescribing errors early after EHR implementation and after sustained use among community-based primary care providers. Relatively low rates of errors with e-prescribing were found early and after prolonged use. Extensive support for providers before, during, and after implementation may mitigate potential safety threats from implementation of an EHR system and result in sustained safety benefits over the long term.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2013

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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