Study: electronic hospital system may save lives

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© Rachel Frank/Corbis

Researchers, doctors, patient advocates and public health officials alike have long been trying to find ways to improve patient safety. And recent research has suggested that seemingly simple measures like hospital checklist can make a significant difference. Yet studies highlighting the many ways in which medical mistakes can happen continue to emerge, underscoring the need for new strategies to reduce the estimated 200,000 unnecessary deaths each year due to medical mistakes and preventable infections. To that end, a promising study published online today in the journal Pediatrics found that, 18 months after implementing the use of a computerized physician order entry (CPOE) system at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, mortality rates dropped by 20%. That difference suggests that implementation of the the CPOE system correlates with 2 fewer deaths per 1,000 patients discharged during that time period, the researchers say, for a total of 36 fewer deaths.

CPOE systems enable doctors to prescribe medications and order tests electronically, meaning that the instructions are immediately available to anyone who logs into the system—even those who do so remotely. As debate over the merits of electronic medical records and CPOE systems continues—with opponents expressing concerns about privacy initial expense of implementation while advocates, including the Institute of Medicine, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Obama administration say that electronic systems represent a way forward for improving health care—researchers say these findings help illuminate whether such systems actually provide significant improvement. The team of researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and Harvard University say that other simultaneous improvements efforts such as staffing and work-flow changes may also have contributed to the promising results. Yet, the current findings suggest that CPOE may be an important component to broader efforts to improve patient safety. The current findings, they conclude, “add important information to this debate by providing evidence that CPOE can have a significant impact in a relatively short time on hospital-wide mortality.”