Background: The objective was to find evidence to substantiate assertions that electronic applications for medication management in ambulatory care (electronic prescribing, clinical decision support (CDSS), electronic health record, and computer generated paper prescriptions), while intended to reduce prescribing errors, can themselves result in errors that might harm patients or increase risks to patient safety.
Methods: Because a scoping search for adverse events in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) yielded few relevant results, we systematically searched nine databases, including MEDLINE, EMBASE, and The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews for systematic reviews and studies of a wide variety of designs that reported on implementation of the interventions. Studies that had safety and adverse events as outcomes, monitored for them, reported anecdotally adverse events or other events that might indicate a threat to patient safety were included.
Results: We found no systematic reviews that examined adverse events or patient harm caused by organizational interventions. Of the 4056 titles and abstracts screened, 176 full-text articles were assessed for inclusion. Sixty-one studies with appropriate interventions, settings and participants but without patient safety, adverse event outcomes or monitoring for risks were excluded, along with 77 other non-eligible studies. Eighteen randomized controlled trials (RCTs), 5 non-randomized controlled trials (non-R,CTs) and 15 observational studies were included. The most common electronic intervention studied was CDSS and the most frequent clinical area was cardio-vascular, including anti-coagulants. No RCTS or non-R,CTS reported adverse event. Adverse events reported in observational studies occurred less frequently after implementation of CDSS. One RCT and one observational study reported an increase in problematic prescriptions with electronic prescribing
Conclusions: The safety implications of electronic medication management in ambulatory care have not been established with results from studies included in this systematic review. Only a minority of studies that investigated these interventions included threats to patients' safety as outcomes or monitored for adverse events. It is therefore not surprising that we found little evidence to substantiate fears of new risks to patient safety with their implementation. More research is needed to focus on the draw-backs and negative outcomes that implementation of these interventions might introduce.