Hospitals Slow to Adopt Life Saving Technology

If you walk into any hospital in New Hampshire and visit a floor where patients are being treated, you’re bound to see one of two things: 1) a doctor furiously scribbling a prescription; and 2) a nurse dispensing medication to a patient. They’re routine until something goes wrong- a pharmacist misreads the doctor’s handwritten prescription order or a nurse gives the wrong drugs to a patient. The sad fact is that both errors are avoidable. Specific technology has been designed, developed and implemented for doctors to enter prescription orders electronically and for nurses to cross reference the drugs to be dispensed with the patient’s wrist band. When the doctor enters an order or a prescription electronically, the risk of error is significantly reduced. The same holds true for a nurse dispensing drugs. Under this system, the drugs have a specific bar code which matches the bar code on the patient’s wristband. Once both are scanned, the risk of error is negligible. The technology is called computerized provider order entry, or CPOE. Unfortunately, few hospitals take advantage of the technology. A recent survey of hospitals nationwide found that fewer than 17% use the electronic prescription pad and even fewer hospitals use the bar coding system. This failure to adapt is astounding considering that using these simple programs saves lives. Hospital administrators who oppose such measures cite the cost of implementing the new technology as well as reluctance among some healthcare professionals to adapt to new routines and procedures. The recent federal stimulus package has addressed some of the cost concerns by approving federal dollars to assist hospitals with the purchase of new equipment including the purchase of electronic health information systems. If an electronic information system helps save lives and reduces medical errors, isn’t that worth the additional cost?