Medical errors are estimated to be the third-highest cause of death in the country. Experts and patient safety advocates are trying to change that. But at least one of the tools that’s been considered a fix isn’t yet working as well as it should, suggests a report released Thursday.

This is according to the Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit organization known for rating hospitals on patient safety. Leapfrog conducted a voluntary survey of almost 1,800 hospitals to determine how many use computerized-physician-order-entry systems to make sure patients are prescribed and receive the correct drugs, and that medications won’t cause harm.

But it’s difficult to know how many of those missed errors result in actual harm, Mobley acknowledged. Ordering the wrong medication can be inconvenient or problematic. But it isn’t always dangerous. And, for those that are, hospitals may have other safeguards in place to catch mistakes before they actually hurt patients. “It really does vary significantly by hospital,” she said.

The survey, Mobley suggested, underscores the need for hospitals and patients to be vigilant when it comes to overseeing their medications. For hospitals, that means instituting “checks and balances” — system-wide initiatives like requiring manual reviews of a patient’s drugs, on top of the computer checks.

And hospitals are increasingly taking such steps to make medication errors less common, said Jesse Pines, who directs the Office for Clinical Practice Innovation at George Washington University and is a professor of emergency medicine. Technology is also improving, so medication ordering systems should get better, he added.


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