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Arch Intern Med. 2009 May 25;169(10):982-9. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.102.

Prescription errors and outcomes related to inconsistent information transmitted through computerized order entry: a prospective study.

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  • 1Houston Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence, Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 2002 Holcombe Blvd, Houston, TX 77030, USA.



Although several types of computerized provider order entry (CPOE)-related errors may occur, errors related to inconsistent information within the same prescription (ie, mismatch between the structured template and the associated free-text field) have not been described, to our knowledge. We determined the nature and frequency of such errors and identified their potential predictive variables.


In this prospective study, we enrolled pharmacists to report prescriptions containing inconsistent communication over a 4-month period at a tertiary care facility. We also electronically retrieved all prescriptions written during the study period containing any comments in the free-text field and then randomly selected 500 for manual review to determine inconsistencies between free-text and structured fields. Of these, prescriptions without inconsistencies were categorized as controls. Data on potentially predictive variables from reported and unreported errors and controls were collected. For all inconsistencies, we determined their nature (eg, drug dosage or administration schedule) and potential harm and used multivariate logistic regression models to identify factors associated with errors and harm.


Of 55 992 new prescriptions, 532 (0.95%) were reported to contain inconsistent communication, a rate comparable to that obtained from the unreported group. Drug dosage was the most common inconsistent element among both groups. Certain medications were more likely associated with errors, as was the inpatient setting (odds ratio, 3.30; 95% confidence interval, 2.18-5.00) and surgical subspecialty (odds ratio, 2.45; 95% confidence interval, 1.57-3.82). About 20% of errors could have resulted in moderate to severe harm, for which significant independent predictors were found.


Despite standardization of data entry, inconsistent communication in CPOE poses a significant risk to safety. Improving the usability of the CPOE interface and integrating it with workflow may reduce this risk.

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