The accuracy of medication data in an outpatient electronic medical record

J Am Med Inform Assoc. May-Jun 1996;3(3):234-44. doi: 10.1136/jamia.1996.96310637.


Objective: To measure the accuracy of medication records stored in the electronic medical record (EMR) of an outpatient geriatric center. The authors analyzed accuracy from the perspective of a clinician using the data and the perspective of a computer-based medical decision-support system (MDSS).

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Methods: The EMR at the geriatric center captures medication data both directly from clinicians and indirectly using encounter forms and data-entry clerks. During a scheduled office visit for medical care, the treating clinician determined whether the medication records for the patient were an accurate representation of the medications that the patient was actually taking. Using the available sources of information (the patient, the patient's vials, any caregivers, and the medical chart), the clinician determined whether the recorded data were correct, whether any data were missing, and the type and cause for each discrepancy found.

Results: At the geriatric center, 83% of medication records represented correctly the compound. dose, and schedule of a current medication; 91% represented correctly the compound. 0.37 current medications were missing per patient. The principal cause of errors was the patient (36.1% of errors), who misreported a medication at a previous visit or changed (stopped, started, or dose-adjusted) a medication between visits. The second most frequent cause of errors was failure to capture changes to medications made by outside clinicians, accounting for 25.9% of errors. Transcription errors were a relatively ucommon cause (8.2% of errors). When the accuracy of records from the center was analyzed from the perspective of a MDSS, 90% were correct for compound identity and 1.38 medications were missing or uncoded per patient. The cause of the additional errors of omission was a free-text "comments" field-which it is assumed would be unreadable by current MDSS applications-that was used by clinicians in 18% of records to record the identity of the medication.

Conclusions: Medication records in an outpatient EMR may have significant levels of data error. Based on an analysis of correctable causes of error, the authors conclude that the most effective extension to the EMR studied would be to expand its scope to include all clinicians who can potentially change medications. Even with EMR extensions, however, ineradicable error due to patients and data entry will remain. Several implications of ineradicable error for MDSSs are discussed. The provision of a free-text "comments" field increased the accuracy of medication lists for clinician users at the expense of accuracy for a MDSS.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Therapy*
  • Forms and Records Control
  • Health Services for the Aged
  • Humans
  • Medical Records Systems, Computerized*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage
  • Prospective Studies
  • Self Administration
  • Self Medication
  • Software Design


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations