Direct computer-based physician order entry has been the subject of debate for over 20 years. Many sites have implemented systems successfully. Others have failed outright or flirted with disaster, incurring substantial delays, cost overruns, and threatened work actions. The rationale for physician order entry includes process improvement, support of cost-conscious decision making, clinical decision support, and optimization of physicians' time. Barriers to physician order entry result from the changes required in practice patterns, roles within the care team, teaching patterns, and institutional policies. Key ingredients for successful implementation include: the system must be fast and easy to use, the user interface must behave consistently in all situations, the institution must have broad and committed involvement and direction by clinicians prior to implementation, the top leadership of the organization must be committed to the project, and a group of problem solvers and users must meet regularly to work out procedural issues. This article reviews the peer-reviewed scientific literature to present the current state of the art of computer-based physician order entry.