MEDICAL MISTAKES: New Technology Helps Reduce Errors
"Faced with growing concern about sometimes fatal medical errors -- often errors in medication -- hospitals nationwide are increasingly turning to computers for a timely safety check," the New York Times reports. Dr. Joseph Hayes, a cardiologist and medical director of clinical information centers at the Weill Cornell Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital, said, "It's a revolution in the making." At least a dozen technology companies are selling electronic systems to help cut down on errors, including Internet links to a doctor's laptop, advice-giving software, wireless devices that transmit medical orders and bar code systems to avoid drug errors. And hospitals such as LDS in New York, Boston's Brigham and Women's and Massachusetts General, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and the Veterans Affairs facility in Topeka, Kan., have employed such measures already. But until recently, "most hospitals have been slow to adopt such systems." Now, after the Institute of Medicine study reported in November that medical mistakes cause as many as 100,000 deaths each year, about one in three hospitals has integrated at least one "important safeguard: a system for doctors to enter orders for drugs, tests and the like in a computer."
Not 100% Compliant
Several factors are preventing some hospitals from embracing new computer systems. The often "clunky" technology carries a $5 million to $15 million-price tag and while most younger doctors "are committed members of the Internet generation," older physicians are often "computer shy," saying, "I didn't go to medical school to become a typist." Many medical centers have invested in computer systems that are unable to communicate with each other and some doctors complain that "technology companies have a distressing habit of declaring products obsolete every three years." Dr. Kenneth Kizer, CEO of the Quality Forum, a public-private health care coalition, said, "Health care is still very much of a cottage industry. It hasn't put in place the systems you see in financial management, transportation and lots of other industries." But he added, "Patient safety has finally come out of the closet." Next month, business leaders plan to meet with 11 health insurance companies to discuss using computers for medical orders and other improvements that could reduce errors (Freudenheim, 2/3).