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Medication errors a real threat, despite new technology

Given how important medication is in treating patients for a wide variety of injuries and illnesses, one would think that hospitals and medical professionals would do what is necessary to ensure that medication errors do not occur. But the reality is that medication errors are extremely common, and they risk patients' health and lives.

Connecticut residents will be interested in a recent article in Forbes that points to some of the problems and possible solutions with regard to medication errors.

Let's start with a look at the big picture -- it isn't pretty.

According to one study, each year in the United States, medication errors happen an estimated one million times and contribute to about 7,000 fatalities.

These errors could occur at any point in the chain of doctors, hospital staff and pharmacists, and sadly patients end up suffering the most.

But there is hope. Hospitals have begun using computerized physician entry systems, or CPOEs, to help ensure that medication errors don't occur. In this system, doctors enter a prescription order into a computer, and ideally, the program prevents any mistaken prescriptions from getting to the patient.

For example, a properly functioning CPOE system will check the doctor's prescription order against the patient's medical information to make certain that the prescribed drug will not interact badly with other drugs or cause an allergic reaction.

Or the CPOE will check to make sure that the doctor hasn't prescribed the wrong drug, or misplaced a decimal point that could result in an overdose or an under-dose.

But CPOEs are not foolproof, and not enough hospitals have them yet. Consequently, medication errors are likely to remain a real threat to patient safety.

Hartford-area residents who want to learn more about medication errors are encouraged to visit our medical malpractice site. Our firm works with clients who have been injured because of medical errors.

Source: Forbes, "The Shocking Truth About Medication Errors," Leah Binder, Sept. 3, 2013

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