Hospital computer systems fall short in preventing drug errors

Medication errors at hospitals are the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Journal of Patient Safety. In order to address the problem and enhance patient safety, many hospitals have implemented computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems for ordering medication.

According to a report from hospital rating organization The Leapfrog, CPOE systems have significantly reduced the number of dangerous drug errors. However, they still fall short of catching all possible mistakes and require clinicians to recheck orders to truly prevent patient harm. Leapfrog surveyed 1,750 U.S. hospitals and collaborated with Castlight Health to analyze the data. Participating hospitals were asked to use dummy patients with fake drug orders to test their digital systems.

The findings released on April 7 showed around 40 percent of potentially harmful medication errors were not caught by the systems. Mistakes included prescribing an adult dosage to a child, giving medication orders for the wrong illness, or overlooking dangerous drug interactions. In addition, computer systems failed to flag 13 percent of errors that could potentially have killed patients.

“CPOE systems have done a remarkable job in reducing the likelihood of medication errors, but mistakes are still seen with far too much frequency,” said Leapfrog President and CEO Leah Binder. “Hospitals spend millions of dollars to implement CPOE systems, but our results clearly show that many hospitals’ systems are not operating as well as they should, putting patients’ lives at risk.”

The results show that while technology is helpful, it is not foolproof. The survey highlights the need for hospitals and patients to be cautious when it comes to managing their medications. Erica Mobley, Leapfrog’s development and communications director, recommended supplementing computer checks with system-wide initiatives such as manual medication reconciliation activities.

Paul Greenberg is a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer with Briskman Briskman & Greenberg. To learn more call 1.877.595.4878 or visit