December 20, 2002

VUMC honored for reducing medical errors

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Brian Law, Ph.D. led the VUMC study. (photo by Dana Johnson)

VUMC honored for reducing medical errors

The departments of Pharmacy and Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have won a “best practices award” from a national pharmacists association for improving an electronic prescription system.

The award, given earlier this month by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, reflects the wide-ranging efforts at Vanderbilt to reduce the rate of medication errors, officials said.

Of the roughly 4 million doses of medication dispensed annually by the Vanderbilt pharmacy, the medication error rate is about 0.02 percent, said Philip E. Johnston, Pharm.D., assistant director of pharmacy services.

“If that’s accurate or not, we don’t know yet — we don’t have all of them reported,” Johnston said last Friday during a “Quality Grand Rounds” at the medical center. However, a significant reduction in medication order errors has occurred due to the electronic prescription system and other safeguards, he added.

Vanderbilt is nationally known for the development of WizOrder, an electronic order entry system that provides a wide array of critical information — from patient test results to evidence-based clinical protocols to medical reference materials — to help the clinician at the moment that he or she is ordering tests, treatments and medications.

The system was licensed last year as Horizon Expert Orders, and now interacts with “well over” 500 Web sites, Johnston said.

The best practices award was given for the successful implementation of the system on nearly all of the patient units at Vanderbilt University Hospital. About 2,800 medication orders are electronically communicated to the hospital pharmacy every day.

The team that worked on the implementation included pharmacist Fred R. Hargrove, D.Ph.; Pharmacy Director James R. Knight; Douglas Talbert, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biomedical Informatics; Dr. Randolph Miller, professor and chair of Biomedical Informatics; and Assistant Pharmacy Director Stephen K. Huffines, Pharm.D.

Johnston said a variety of other safety measures are being undertaken at Vanderbilt, including implementation of software developed by ALARIS Medical Systems Inc. of San Diego, Calif., that is designed to prevent intravenous medication errors.

The pharmacy is also studying the circumstances under which medication errors have occurred, in order to be able to predict which situations should be monitored more closely to prevent errors from happening.