Medication Errors Cost over $3.5 Billion a Year: Institute of Medicine Committee Set Deadline of 2010 for Physicians to Switch to E-Prescribing

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Each year, patients in the United States experience at least 1.5 million preventable injuries because of medication errors, according to the findings of an Institute of Medicine analysis.

The report, released in July, estimated that these preventable adverse drug events would add up to about $3.5 billion in additional hospitalization costs this year, excluding the economic burden of lost wages and productivity.

The expert panel convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) called on physicians to do their part in reducing medication errors by improving communication with patients about medication safety and adopting electronic prescribing technology.

"Our recommendations boil down to ensuring that consumers are fully informed about how to take medications safely and achieve the desired results, and that health care providers have the tools and data necessary to prescribe, dispense, and administer drugs as safely as possible and to monitor for problems," J. Lyle Bootman, Ph.D., cochair of the IOM committee and dean of the college of pharmacy at the University of Arizona, Tucson, said in a statement.

The IOM committee set a 2010 deadline for physicians to implement e-prescribing for all prescriptions. Physicians and hospitals should have plans in place by 2008 to implement the necessary technology, the IOM report said. The e-prescribing technology should also be able to provide physicians with real-time clinical decision support tools.

The report, which was written at the request of Congress, underscores for law-makers the importance of electronic health records (EHRs) in improving safety, said Hedy Cohen, R.N., vice president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. There have already been discussions within Congress about how to support the adoption of this technology, she said, and over time, prices for the systems should decrease.

The American Medical Association pointed out that while there is great interest among physicians to adopt health IT, they face a dizzying array of choices, without much basis for objective comparison, and high adoption costs.

Just days before the release of the IOM report, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) released the first list of ambulatory EHR products that had been certified as meeting baseline criteria for functionality, interoperability, and security.

"We're encouraged by these first, solid steps to help physicians make purchasing decisions, but there is much more work to be done before the majority of physicians have the capability to do e-prescribing in a comprehensive way that includes safety and security capabilities," Dr. …