Electronic checklists reduce hospital medication errors

Computer records offer more complete patient histories, study finds.

Using an electronic medication checklist to gain patient medication histories significantly reduces errors compared with a paper-based checklist, a recent study found.

The study, conducted last year at a 400-bed hospital in central Texas, focused on older patients, who tend to take more medications than younger people and may have more trouble recalling the type and dosages of their medications. A previous study found that up to 27 percent of hospital prescribing errors result from incomplete medication histories when patients are admitted, the researchers noted.

The findings, published in the fall issue of Perspectives in Health Information Management, the online journal of the American Health Information Management Association’s Policy and Applied Research Institute, suggest that using electronic health records with decision-support tools for identifying patient-history errors results in better accuracy. Nurses use the tools during patient admission.

The hospital that was studied had just transitioned to a new EHR system with an electronic medication checklist at the time of the 2011 study. The researchers noted that EHR systems include the names of all medications, eliminating the possibility of error from incorrectly typing in a medication name. EHRs also include alert functions that help reduce dosing errors as long as they are not disabled. Clinicians sometimes disable medication alert functions because of high numbers of what they consider low-importance alerts.

“This research demonstrates that with a diligent approach to the way in which nurses obtain medication histories, improvement in outcomes may be delivered through the reduction of medication errors,” the researchers concluded in the study, entitled “Enhance the Accuracy of Medication Histories for the Elderly by Using an Electronic Medication Checklist.” The researchers are from Texas State University-San Marcos.