Paperless is the way to go to eliminate errors, say Detroit Medical Center chiefs

By Bernie Monegain
09:56 AM

The Detroit Medical Center is touting its 100 percent medication verification system in the wake of actor Dennis Quaid's March 10 appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to discuss medication safety.

Quaid, whose twin babies received a nearly fatal dose of blood thinner while hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in 2007, told the audience that computerized recordkeeping and barcoding in hospitals could have prevented the medication error that nearly killed his children. He called for a paperless system of "medication verification" that could eliminate such dangerous medication mistakes in hospitals.

An electronic medical record is already in place at Detroit Medical Center - as it is at many hospitals across the country - and medication verification scanning began in April 2006, with all DMC hospitals completing the project in May 2007.

The system requires that physician orders, test results and other patient records be collected and processed online. The new technology reduces the risk of potentially dangerous medication errors by as much as 90 percent, since it prohibits all handwriting in the prescribing and dispensing of drugs, according to DMC executives.

The new 100 percent electronic medication verification for managing medications calls for repeated scanning of electronic barcodes by caregivers, with verified accuracy checks when the medication is ordered, dispensed and given to the patient.

In May 2007, the DMC's paperless record-keeping system, powered by Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner, became fully operational in all eight hospitals.

"This is a significant step forward in delivering better care to hospital patients," said Leland Babitch, MD, chief medical information officer at the DMC.

Babitch said evidence shows that EMR systems reduce medical errors. "Recent national studies show that at least 7 percent of hospital patients are affected by these errors," he said. "The data also show clearly that effectively managed EMR systems can eliminate most of them."

Babitch said medication mistakes adversely affect one out of every 50 patients admitted to U.S. hospitals.

"Many of the mistakes involve handwriting-related issues," he said. "But the new EMR system prohibits physicians and other caregivers from using handwriting at all in the care of patients, which is a major step forward. With more than 93,000 patients admitted to DMC hospitals each year, finding ways to reduce the rate of errors is of paramount concern for all of us."

DMC President and CEO Michael Duggan said the recent introduction of EMR is only the latest in a long series of pioneering breakthroughs for the system. "With the launch of electronic medical record-keeping, the DMC is once again leading the nation in pioneering technology designed to improve medical care for patients," he said.

"DMC physicians conducted the world's first successful pump-assisted open-heart surgery here in the 1950s," Duggan said, "and DMC researchers only a few decades later synthesized the first effective AIDS drug (AZT). With the installation of EMR throughout all eight of our hospitals, the DMC has once again broken new ground in the continuing effort to make treatment better for hospital patients."

"There's no question that the yearly toll caused by medical errors is one of the great tragedies of modern medicine," said Thomas Malone, MD, president of Harper University Hospital and Hutzel Women's Hospital, which are part of the DMC network. "But there's a great deal of research out there to show that the kind of electronic record-keeping now taking place daily at the DMC can eliminate a high percentage of these potentially lethal mistakes."