High-Tech Help To Prevent Medical Mistakes
October 11, 2000
Helping doctors and other health-care providers avoid potentially lethal mistakes is fast emerging as a major national issue. It has been estimated that as many as 98,000 patients die each year as a result of medical errors.
Experts warn that the health-care industry has been slow to employ high-tech assistance to warn of potential errors. Problems range from doctors' illegible handwriting on prescriptions to insufficient understanding of the characteristics of thousands of new drugs pouring into medical markets.
- An Institute of Medicine report last November cited mistakes made by doctors, nurses and hospital workers as the nation's eighth leading killer.
- Experts report that the federal government has declined to approve some drugs because doctors are finding it difficult to remember their complexities.
- Indeed, the Physicians' Desk Reference -- which contains the information today's doctors need -- is comprised of about 3,000 pages of fine print.
- Doctors must also track dietary supplements, new high-tech devices and expanding treatment options.
But help may be on the way from an unexpected source: the Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington, D.C.
Physicians there use a $365,000 computer system that scans bar codes on patient bracelets and medicines. If a doctor is about to make a mistake, the system recognizes the conflict and displays a warning.
Those familiar with the system report that medical errors due to bad handwriting, rare drug interactions and human errors have largely been eliminated -- although hospital officials decline to give numbers.
Source: Robert Davis and Julie Appleby, "Lethal Medical Errors Often Could Be Cured," USA Today, October 11, 2000.
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