Background: Although electronic prescribing (e-prescribing) holds promise for preventing prescription errors in the ambulatory setting, research on its effectiveness is inconclusive.
Objective: To assess the impact of a stand-alone e-prescribing system on the rates and types of ambulatory prescribing errors.
Design, participants: Prospective, non-randomized study using pre-post design of 15 providers who adopted e-prescribing with concurrent controls of 15 paper-based providers from September 2005 through June 2007.
Intervention: Use of a commercial, stand-alone e-prescribing system with clinical decision support including dosing recommendations and checks for drug-allergy interactions, drug-drug interactions, and duplicate therapies.
Main measures: Prescribing errors were identified by a standardized prescription and chart review.
Key results: We analyzed 3684 paper-based prescriptions at baseline and 3848 paper-based and electronic prescriptions at one year of follow-up. For e-prescribing adopters, error rates decreased nearly sevenfold, from 42.5 per 100 prescriptions (95% confidence interval (CI), 36.7-49.3) at baseline to 6.6 per 100 prescriptions (95% CI, 5.1-8.3) one year after adoption (p < 0.001). For non-adopters, error rates remained high at 37.3 per 100 prescriptions (95% CI, 27.6-50.2) at baseline and 38.4 per 100 prescriptions (95% CI, 27.4-53.9) at one year (p = 0.54). At one year, the error rate for e-prescribing adopters was significantly lower than for non-adopters (p < 0.001). Illegibility errors were very high at baseline and were completely eliminated by e-prescribing (87.6 per 100 prescriptions at baseline for e-prescribing adopters, 0 at one year).
Conclusions: Prescribing errors may occur much more frequently in community-based practices than previously reported. Our preliminary findings suggest that stand-alone e-prescribing with clinical decision support may significantly improve ambulatory medication safety.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, Taconic Health Information Network and Community (THINC), NCT00225563, http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00225563?term=Kaushal&rank=6 .