DrFirst Healthcare Technology Blog

How Electronic Medication History Saves Lives

December 19, 2011

The shift from paper-based prescribing and medication history methods to an electronic medication history system is of immeasurable value to not only the patient and medical staff, but to those countless individuals involved in the scramble that often occurs during a hospital admission. While the common denominator among both patients and healthcare professionals is a focus on the final positive patient outcome, that final determination relies heavily on the speed and accuracy of those first few moments when a patient is admitted to the hospital.
According to a 2007 study by the Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that deaths as a result of paper-based medication errors reach nearly 7,000 annually. Transitioning to an electronic medication history system has the potential to prevent 2 million missteps and resulting adverse drug events a year, as well as a total annual savings of over $20 billion.

Each second is precious and costly during an emergency. Consider two patients with identical situations including medical histories and symptoms. The only difference? One has MedHx electronic medication history. The other does not.

Meet Alan and Zach. Both patients are 60-year-old males with a history of heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes. Both take the exact same prescription pills daily , complained of chest pressure and were unconscious upon arriving at the hospital. Each patient is accompanied by his wife.

Alan presents to a hospital emergency room that uses MedHx electronic medication history. As he is wheeled into the hospital, nurses and doctors quickly examine him. A physician’s assistant turns to Alan’s wife and says, “Our techs have just finished pulling up your husband’s medication history in our system. The doctors will look over it and move quickly to stabilize your husband and figure out what’s causing him to experience the symptoms you described.” Alan’s wife is taken to a waiting room and the doctors are able to run blood tests and administer drugs within moments of his arrival.

Zach presents to a hospital emergency room that does not use MedHx electronic medication history. As he is wheeled into the hospital, nurses and doctors quickly examine him. A physician’s assistant turns to Zach’s wife and says, “Can you tell us what medication he has taken today? Has he been seen in the past for any heart conditions, and is he being treated for any other illnesses? Is he diabetic?” Zach’s wife responds with his history of heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes, explaining that he takes two blood pressure medications, one of which is a beta blocker. Though she knows the name of the first medication, she does not remember the other or any of the dosages. The P.A. asks which pharmacy they use.
“We use two pharmacies,” she responds. “Zach manages his own meds, so I don’t know which pills he fills from which pharmacy.” The P.A. alerts the techs to call each pharmacy for Zach’s medication history as the doctors discuss how long they feel it is safe to wait before administering treatment.. Zach’s wife stands by the ER nurse’s station pulling the prescription bottles from her purse that she grabbed as the ambulance pulled up to her house. As the techs make phone calls and wait for faxes, several more patients stream into the ER. Zach’s wife is escorted to a waiting room. After several minutes, the P.A. returns to alert his wife that Zach has an allergic reaction to the administered drugs, that they’re giving him something to counteract them and that they are doing their best to stabilize him.

When techs pulled up Alan’s information, the doctors had immediate access to a 24 month history of his medications, dosages, prescribing doctors and dates the prescriptions were filled. When an ER nurse is asked, “is it always this crowded?” the answer is often, “It’s usually worse.” Hospitals that put an electronic medication history system in place streamline their processes and increase their rate of positive patient outcomes. Time is saved and aggravation avoided and, most importantly, lives are saved.

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About the Author

Irene Froehlich

Ms. Froehlich has been with DrFirst since its inception in 2000. In her role as Director of Marketing, she oversees the planning, directing, and coordinating all marketing and public relations efforts at DrFirst. Ms. Froehlich has a B.S. in Communications from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

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