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A piece in Forbes this week details the issue of medication errors in hospitals. The writer touches on the fact that even just a decimal misplacement can lead to death and that 1 million errors and 7,000 resulting deaths occur yearly.

Yet the solution – computerized physician order entry (CPOE) – to combat errors isn’t particularly innovative. For those that don’t know (and the Forbes piece does not touch on this), the federal government began mandating use of electronic medical records since President Obama took office, and now 69 percent of physicians have such systems in place. The push toward electronic records is one effort to modernize the country’s healthcare system, and by 2015, hospitals and physicians will face penalties for not adopting EMRs.

But in spite of the fact the Forbes article touts computerized records as a solution, another piece on TribLive.com practically counteracts this argument. Specifically, the September 5 article details, a Pennsylvania Patients Safety Authority study found that the state itself experienced over 300 medication errors due to computers over the past 10 years.

Although not all were life threatening, errors ranged from whether the patient received the medication at the right time or at all and whether the dosage was correct to hospital personnel not changing default settings for certain patients and systems overwriting information entered.

A June 2013 Bloomberg piece reveals even more issues, both involving the computers themselves and human errors with technology: incorrect dosages selected from drop-down menus, delays in sending over medical images, medications ordered for the wrong patients or disappearing from electronic files, and personnel incorrectly entering medications into the system.

Two facts Bloomberg points out regarding medication errors and hospitals are particularly troubling: One, errors doubled from 2010 to 2011, and two, mortality rates at hospitals appear to increase when an EMR is implemented.

So, how can a patient counteract a potential medication error before it leads to death or serious health complications and eventually a lawsuit? One doctor recommends a proactive approach:
• Bring your pills to any visit with your doctor.
• Make sure your doctor knows all medications you currently take.
• Obtain a printout of your electronic medical records and double check it for errors.
• Always keep a list of your medications with you whenever you travel.