Pennsylvania agency determines cause of many medication errors

Medical staff in our state and across the country rely on computer systems to keep track of patient medication times and dosages. These electronic medical records systems are designed to improve the quality of patient care, but the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority recently released a report showing that these systems caused about 300 medication errors in our state since 2003. The problem, according to the report, is that the default settings in the system are not always changed to reflect the individual needs of each patient.

Medical staff can customize the settings on these systems to reflect each patient's medication information. However, the agency found that the default settings were not always changed or that information was incomplete, which caused the system to auto fill the blank fields. Additionally, information keyed in by medical staff was sometimes overwritten by the system.

As a result of these issues, approximately 200 of the medication errors were due to medical staff administering drugs to the patients at the wrong time. In 71 cases, patients received the wrong dose, and there are 28 known cases in which medication was prematurely stopped. Two cases are reported in which the effects of the medication errors were harmful enough to require medical intervention. In two other cases, patients needed to stay in the hospital longer because their medication was administered incorrectly.

While these medication errors were due to the default settings in the system, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority states that there may be many more errors related to other aspects of these systems. The agency hopes that by calling attention to this problem, medical staff at hospitals across our state will more closely monitor the information that goes into these systems. Regardless, any patient who suffers from complications due to a medication error may wish to explore what options are available under our state's medical malpractice laws.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Errors in default settings of electronic medical record systems raise risks for patients, Alex Nixon, Sept. 6, 2013

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