Electronic medical orders can save many a life

Digital doc
Last Updated 03 May 2010, 16:47 IST

After the system was introduced in 2007, the hospital witnessed a 20-percent drop in mortality rate, the equivalent of 36 fewer deaths over a year and a half. “It’s the lowest rate ever observed in a children’s hospital,” said Dr Chris Longhurst, of Stanford University and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, California.

CPOE: A speedy system       
In 1999, a report from the Institute of Medicine blamed medical errors for between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths per year in the U S. Many hospitals have since introduced so-called computerized physician order entry, or CPOE, in an effort to lower that number.
Such systems allow doctors to relay prescriptions to pharmacists without delay, and without the need for the pharmacist to decipher doctors’ scrawl. “What used to take 40 minutes or so now takes 20,” Longhurst said.

Debatable issue

Although close to three in ten U S hospitals use CPOE, no one had been able to show a decrease in mortality until now. “There have been a couple of studies previously that have taken a similar approach and have found the opposite result” of the current study, said Nir Menachemi, an expert at the University of Alabama.

According to Longhurst, what set Packard Children’s Hospital apart was its careful and well-planned implementation of CPOE. The system has also helped doctors limit some unnecessary procedures such as blood transfusions, he said.

While it’s hard to prove that CPOE is directly responsible for the decrease in mortality -- which could have been brought about by other improvements during the same period - the researchers did the best they could to account for those factors.

“It should be rolled out by experienced experts,” Longhurst said. “And there are only so many experts in this country.”

(Published 03 May 2010, 16:47 IST)

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