Hospitals work to reduce medical mistakes - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Hospitals work to reduce medical mistakes

July 21, 2006

Albany-  Seven thousand people a year die because they were given the wrong medicine at hospitals, nursing homes and doctors offices.  More than 1.5 million people are injured because of such mistakes. One south Georgia hospital is on the cutting edge of technology to eliminate the risk of medical errors.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital was the first hospital nationwide to integrate a robot and prescription carousel in their pharmacy to cut down on the number of medical mishaps.  For the last year, nurses have been armed with electronic computer charts. The devices have shown the hospital where potential errors exist and allowed them to reduce the potential for mistakes.

Simple mechanics, a robot that works all night reading bar codes on medicine, getting them to the right patient, and electronic prescriptions, just two ways Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital ensures patient safety.

"Instead of getting a paper fax, they come in electronic, very much like your e-mail and we can actually prioritize orders and when we open the order, it opens on the second screen and if we can't read the handwriting, it's a little hard, we can blow it up," said Randy Carver, Phoebe Automated Coordinator. 

For a year now, nurses have used these Admin. RX machines. Before they can dispense medication, they must scan a patients wristband and the medication that might come with warnings.

"Say if the dose is half a tablet, and we dispense a whole tablet, you know when you scan that, it tells them you know you've got a whole tablet, you need to give half, that you've got more than you should," said Carver. 

The machines also acts as a reminder, to check a blood pressure before certain medicines are given or a warning if it's given too soon. The new technologies have allowed Pharmacists to keep a closer eye on what's being given to patients.

"Actually putting in the robot and the carousel has allowed us to go to 24 hour supply, so when we do send it up we only send a days worth," said Carver.

While all errors can't be eliminated, Phoebe's changes to the way prescriptions come in, and the way medicine is dispensed, has shown the hospital areas for potential problems and allowed those errors to be eliminated. Next month Phoebe will also update their software to get ready for electronic physician prescription ordering.

"We're in the process of getting ready to change over in the next month to one that's bi-directional so we'll be able to talk to physician order entry at the time when the hospital physicians get to the point to implement it," said Carver. 

The problem Phoebe has with getting more doctor's to use the electronic prescription ordering, which would eliminate handwriting mistakes, is that the technology is expensive. Since many doctor's are independent from the hospital, it can't mandate that doctor's use it.

There has also been no national mandate that would require doctors to put down their pens and order their prescriptions electronically. 

Another problem, not all drug manufacturers package and bar code single drug doses. The hospital must do some of that by hand, opening the process to error.

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