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J Oncol Pract. 2012 Nov;8(6):e168-73. doi: 10.1200/JOP.2012.000677. Epub 2012 Sep 25.

Improving electronic oral chemotherapy prescription: can we build a safer system?

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  • 1Center for Patient Safety, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Ave, Boston, MA 02215, USA. saul_weingart@dfci.harvard.edu



To prevent oral chemotherapy prescription errors, we enhanced a prescription-writing module in an ambulatory electronic medical record. We sought to describe the enhancement, examine its performance to date, and identify opportunities for improvement.


Enhancements to the oral chemotherapy writing module included weight- and body surface area-based dosing, fields for cancer diagnosis and intent of therapy (curative v palliative), and dose-limit warnings. We studied all prescriptions for 18 oral chemotherapies generated by oncology clinicians during the first 17 months after the safe prescribing enhancements were introduced, from May 1, 2010, to October 1, 2011. We examined the frequency with which clinicians used the new features, the number and type of alerts generated, and clinician actions in response to alerts.


Six hundred clinicians generated 6,673 prescriptions for 2,043 patients. Six drugs-temozolomide, capecitabine, lenalidomide, hydroxyurea, imatinib, and erlotinib-accounted for 5,512 of all oral chemotherapy prescriptions (83%). Prescribers indicated the intent of therapy 13% of the time and listed the patient's cancer diagnosis 46% of the time. Prescribers customized their instructions using a free-text field in 64% of prescriptions. Clinicians' 6,673 prescription attempts triggered 395 dose-limit warnings (5%), mostly for temozolomide. Clinicians ignored most (96%) warnings, because current dosing recommendations exceeded the dose-limit warnings for the alerted medications.


Oncology clinicians readily accepted features designed to enhance oral chemotherapy safety. Additional enhancements are needed to facilitate prescriptions with complex dosing regimens and to provide dose-limit warnings that reflect current clinical practice.

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