In our last post, we discussed a recent report showing that New Jersey Hospitals rank fifth in the nation in terms of patient safety. The Leapfrog Group, a non-profit hospital watchdog, was behind the rating.

On the whole, the fact that New Jersey hospitals rank highly is great news for patients. But there is always room for improvement. In today’s post, we’ll discuss a common problem that many New Jersey hospitals continue to struggle with: medication errors.

There are many types of medication errors and just as many reasons why they occur. Doctors are notorious for their illegible handwriting, which means that hand-written prescriptions can easily be misread. But even when medicine is administered in hospitals, mistakes can take the form of:

  • Incorrect dosages
  • Failure to inquire about patient allergies
  • Administering drugs that are dangerous when they interact with other drugs the patient is taking
  • Administering drugs that can exacerbate other medical problems a patient may have
  • Failure to monitor how often patients are given drugs or injections

In recent years, hospitals around the country have begun using software designed to catch and prevent medication errors before they harm patients. According to the Leapfrog Group, New Jersey scores above the national average in terms of how many hospitals are using software and how effective the software is.

That being said, these systems are far from perfect. The study showed that in 2013 and 2014, potentially fatal medication orders failed to get flagged about 14 percent of the time. During that same period, warnings for potentially harmful medication orders were not given in about 36 percent of cases.

Even if the software worked perfectly, there are still dangers from errors made while entering patient data. As hospitals continue the transition from paper-based records to electronic health records, not all employees can make that transition smoothly. Data entry errors are a significant concern.

There may come a day when computer software can be used to prevent the majority of errors that lead to patient harm. But there will never be a good substitute for careful human oversight.

Source: NJBiz.com, “How do N.J. hospitals compare when preventing medication errors?” Beth Fitzgerald, April 9, 2015