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Further errors create louder call for electronic prescribing

By Linda Elverson, Head of ePMA Solutions, Civica

The topic of NHS patient safety has again hit the headlines – and this time not regarding A&E waiting times or lack of beds – but errors in drug handling and prescriptions.

New university research at the end of February found that healthcare organisations (including GPs, pharmacists, hospitals and care homes) are estimated to be making around 237 million prescription mistakes a year. This amounts to one in five of the drugs handed out by the NHS so it’s no surprise that this has made national headlines.

While these statistics quite rightly make for shocking reading, it does make us aware of the different ways in which unintentional mistakes can compromise patient wellbeing. Miscalculations in medicine doses and illegible hand writing on prescriptions, charts and transcriptions are just some of the many instances that lead to drug errors.

This is exactly where technology can help. While the latest research found that only a third of hospitals have a well-functioning Electronic Prescribing and Medicines Administration (ePMA) system in place, the Department of Health and Social Care believes the roll out of these systems across more hospitals could reduce mistakes by 50%. ePMA allows clinicians to prescribe and administer medications electronically – instead of using handwritten drug charts and prescriptions or faxed notes, ultimately reducing errors and streamlining the prescription process to benefit patient safety.

Use of technology such as this is crucial within the healthcare system, especially as the findings of the Carter Review, which looked at the efficiency and operational standards of hospitals, still ring true. Smarter budgeting and creating a culture willing to accept change will both benefit patients in the immediate term and safeguard the future of the NHS. Specific functions and workflow within some ePMA systems, relating to acute, mental health and community hospitals, can make prescribing much more effective, offering the clinical confidence found within a highly robust digital system.

We can’t argue with the advantages of electronic prescribing. It now relies on leaders to make the necessary resourcing and funding available to implement change. They must also communicate the benefits to all employees to improve patient outcomes, as well as increase efficiencies across the NHS. The recent headlines should now serve as a huge call to action to push through these digital initiatives which, ultimately, put patient safety first.