Electronic Prescription Directions Vary Greatly in Content and Quality

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Electronic prescriptions allow for providers to enter any free-text directions (Sig) they wish, just as if they were writing a paper prescription. The patient directions are one of the most critical parts of a prescription. It’s a huge safety risk if patients do not understand how to use their prescription or if a pharmacist has to try to interpret what the provider means. In a recent study that analyzed 25,000 electronic prescriptions issued by 22,152 community-based prescribers using 501 e-prescribing software applications, it was found that there was a large number of variations in the electronic prescription directions1. The quality of the directions also varied greatly.

The study was conducted by Yuze Yang, PharmD, from Surescripts and colleagues, and published online in the Journal of Managed Care & Specialty Pharmacy. Out of the 25,000 e-prescriptions, there were 3,797 unique Sigs concepts identified in the Sig text strings. However, more than half of all patient directions could be classified into just 25 unique Sig concepts. There were large numbers of variation of even what would be considered simple and straightforward directions found. For example, over 800 permutations of words and phrases used to convey "take one tablet by mouth once daily" were identified.

The researchers not only looked at the variations, they also analyzed the Sig text strings for quality-related events which were defined as “Sig text content that could impair accurate and unambiguous interpretation by staff at receiving pharmacies.” The biggest quality issue observed was incomplete Sigs. Prescriptions were commonly missing relevant dosages or administration frequency/timing information. They found that more than one in ten prescriptions contained some sort of quality issue.  Considering the number of electronic prescriptions that are sent and the not only time-wasting potential but possibly catastrophic results that could come from such quality issues, that figure is way too high.

The authors' recommendations for reducing the quality issues and variations include:

  • Enhancing e-prescribing application user interfaces and Sig creation tools
  • Improving end-user training and usability testing for optimal use of system functionalities
  • Adopting and implementing the currently available Structured and Codified Sig format by both prescriber and pharmacy systems to facilitate improved standardization and interoperability

At MDToolbox, patient safety and ease of use for prescribers are two of our main focuses when designing our directions input fields. We offer several options designed to make entering quality directions as easy as possible:

  • Sig builder – build complete directions in just a few easy clicks
  • Common Sigs – choose from the most commonly used Sigs already available in the system
  • Saved favorite directions – prescribers can enter directions that they commonly use and save them as a favorite with a shortcut that can be quickly accessed
  • Free-text directions – although free-text directions open it up to possible quality errors, MDToolbox has implemented quality checkers to ensure that free-text directions are not missing any of the information the contributes to many of the quality issues such as “how much” or “how often” the prescription should be used.

MDToolbox is also constantly looking for ways like our quality checkers to enhance these areas even more. Part of the way we do this is by conducting usability tests and end-user trainings in order to get feedback from users and ensure users are taking advantage of the available tools. We share a goal with Surescripts to have zero-error e-prescribing and are continually striving towards this goal.

 

  1. Quality and Variability of Patient Directions in Electronic Prescriptions in the Ambulatory Care Setting https://www.jmcp.org/doi/10.18553/jmcp.2018.17404 

National E-Prescribing of Controlled Substances Bill Gaining Traction

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Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) are confident the Every Prescription Conveyed Securely (EPCS) Act they proposed will be passed. The bill mandates electronic prescribing of controlled substances for Medicare patients nationwide.

When speaking at a forum in Washington, DC, the representatives said the bill has five cosponsors and the strong bipartisan support needed to become law.1 They want to pass it in whatever way necessary - either as a stand-alone bill or attached to another piece of legislation. Clark emphasized the importance of the bill stating, “we will put it on any vehicle that we see, and I hope we can do it in the next few months.”

The EPCS Act is meant to combat the opioid epidemic by helping providers detect fraud and abuse by patients who may be seeking the same prescriptions from multiple sources. Mullin pointed out that currently only about 14% of opioids are e-Prescribed. This leaves a huge amount of handwritten prescriptions that can be easily forged.

The bill sponsors said that opioid manufacturers and distributors as well as pharmacy benefit managers are in full support of the bill. Steve Miller, MD, the chief medical officer of one of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit managers, Express Scripts, expressed his support of mandator e-Prescribing at the forum stating, “We're really excited the federal government is getting into the act.” He pointed out a few of the many benefits of e-Prescribing for Medicare patients – increasing convenience, improving access to needed pain medications, and eliminating fraud and abuse.

There has been some resistance from healthcare providers and hospitals due to the expenses that would go along with implementing e-Prescribing. While there is a cost associated with e-Prescribing controlled substances, we have seen the benefits of e-Prescribing for providers more than make up for this cost. Clark stated that e-Prescribing is a “critical tool going forward” in the fight against the opioid epidemic that’s worth the cost.

The law would also not go into effect until 2020, leaving plenty of time for prescribers to prepare. In addition, there would be a number of exemptions including economic hardship and technologic limitations for up to a year, during public health emergencies or in clinical trials.

Find out more about Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substances.

   1.  e-Prescribing Bill for Controlled Substances May Soon Be Law - Medscape - Oct 24, 2017 

Study Shows e-Prescriptions Aid in Best Practices for Opioid Prescribing

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 E-Prescriptions Safer than Hand Written

Implementing ways to fight the national opioid epidemic is at the forefront of many states’ legislative sessions.  As we’ve mentioned in several previous posts, a growing number of states are fighting the epidemic by requiring prescribers to electronically prescribe these controlled substances. A new study published by the Journal of Opioid Management shows that these lawmakers are on the right track. And it’s more than just increasing legibility and preventing prescription fraud.

Researchers from John Hopkins University analyzed 510 prescriptions for opioids looking for errors, discrepancies, and variations from ideal practice1. The study included both handwritten and electronically generated prescriptions filled at an outpatient pharmacy. An alarming 89% of handwritten prescriptions contained errors. What’s more is that 41% of those prescriptions were noncompliant with DEA rules. Overall, 92% of handwritten prescriptions failed to meet ideal practice standards, contained errors, or were noncompliant with DEA rules.

In contrast, none of the EHR computer-generated prescriptions contained errors and all of them were fully compliant with DEA rules. Electronic prescriptions are written using standard templates where most of the time the software will not even allow a prescriber to save the prescription without including necessary information such as the date, amount, and at least two patient identifiers. The software also aids in making sure any additional DEA rules and best practices are being followed.

The opioid epidemic needs to be tackled from several angles, including making sure the prescriptions that are being provided are accurate and safe for patients. Patient safety needs to be a top priority and prescribers need to make use of the tools available to aid them in following best practices and ensuring all DEA rules are abided by. Electronically prescribing has been shown time and time again to be a powerful resource. For more information on how to get started with e-Prescribing, contact us at info@mdtoolbox.com or 206-331-4420. 

 

  1.  An analysis of errors, discrepancies, and variation in opioid prescriptions for adult outpatients at a teaching hospital http://www.wmpllc.org/ojs-2.4.2/index.php/jom/article/view/556

E-Prescribing Growth Continues to Soar

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E-Prescribing makes the prescribing process easier and safer for patients, prescribers, and pharmacists alike, so it comes as no surprise that e-Prescribing rates continue to surge each year. Surescripts recently released its 2016 National Progress Report1 detailing the e-Prescribing growth they’ve seen on their network.

A total of 1.6 billion e-prescriptions were sent in 2016, up 12% from 1.4 billion in 2015. This accounts for 73% of all prescriptions being sent electronically.

The rates for e-Prescribing of Controlled Substances (EPCS) saw one of the biggest increases with a 256% jump from 2015. There were 45.3 million e-prescriptions for controlled substances sent in 2016 as compared to only 12.8 million in 2015. Part of this increase can be attributed to states such as New York, Minnesota and soon to be Maine mandating that all controlled substances be sent electronically.

The mandate helped New York be ranked number 1 in the Surescripts report with 72.1% of prescribers enabled for EPCS, 98.1% of pharmacies enabled, and 91.9% of controlled substances prescribed electronically. Minnesota, who doesn’t enforce their mandate, was ranked number 7 with 14.3% of prescribers enabled for EPCS, 93.8% of pharmacies enabled, and 19.8% of controlled substances prescribed electronically.

States are putting these mandates in place in an effort to combat substance abuse and increase patient safety. With software, like MDToolbox-Rx, incorporating EPCS into the existing e-Prescribing workflows, it really leaves little reason for those prescribers who are already e-Prescribing not to electronically prescribe controlled substances as well.

The ability to access patient medication histories electronically at the point of prescribing also plays an important role in patient safety. It allows prescribers the ability to see a more complete history and avoid adverse drug events. The amount of providers accessing medical histories on the Surescripts network also increased in 2016. More than 1.08 billion medication histories were accessed.

2016 also saw a 22% increase in the number of healthcare professional connected to the Surescripts network with 1.3 million healthcare professionals connecting. However, although the number of prescribers connected increased by 7%, it’s somewhat surprising that 36% of prescribers are still not connected. We are confident that the number of prescribers who connect will continue to increase though, as prescribers continue to realize the value of e-Prescribing and the ease of use provided by software like MDToolbox-Rx.

 

1. Surescripts 2016 National Progress Report http://surescripts.com/news-center/national-progress-report-2016/

37 States Now Sharing Prescription Data

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Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Texas are the four most recent states to join the prescription monitoring program (PMP) run by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) – NABP PMP InterConnect1. This brings the total number of states connected to 37, making it the largest prescription data sharing network. Over 3.9 million requests and 8.2 million responses are processed through the system each month.

The complete list of connected states includes: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

It is expected that other states will be joining soon too. “We’re excited about the growth and response to PMP InterConnect,” said NABP President Hal Wand, MBA, RPh. “Our goal is to reach every state with a PMP to guarantee a true connection across our country in an effort for greater medical knowledge and our patients’ safety.”

There is no charge to the states to use the system and it’s setup to enforce each state’s data-access rules. Authorized healthcare professionals including physicians and pharmacists in each of the connected states are able to access multi-state histories of their patients’ controlled substance prescriptions. This is an important tool in combating prescription drug abuse and identifying potential problems by allowing providers to see a comprehensive history, especially for those patients who cross state lines.

1. "Four States Join NABP PMP InterConnect, the Nation’s Largest Prescription Data Sharing Network," National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) https://nabp.pharmacy/four-states-join-nabp-pmp-interconnect-nations-largest-prescription-data-sharing-network/

2017 Brings Changes to Medicare Incentive Programs and Meaningful Use

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As we ring in the new year, medical providers now can say goodbye to the CMS’s “Meaningful Use Incentive Program” (MU) and start preparing for the new Medicare incentive program.

Providers who used qualified systems in 2016 can still attest to Meaningful Use for the 2016 year (you must have been a “meaningful user” of certified electronic medical record system(s) for the minimum reporting period. Visit this website for more info on how the previous year’s MU programs worked and deadlines for attesting: 

https://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Legislation/EHRIncentivePrograms/2016ProgramRequirements.html

Now in 2017, Meaningful Use will become one of four components of the new “Merit-Based Incentive Payment System” or MIPS. MIPS is part of the bigger Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization or MACRA.

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) ended the Sustainable Growth Rate formula, which threatened clinicians participating in Medicare with potential payment penalties for 13 years.  

The MACRA program introduces two paths that Medicare providers can choose from for participation:

  • Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs) (providers apply for a special payment model program) or
  • The Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS)  (a performance-based program)

 

Who Does this Affect?

Providers who are in an Advanced APM or who bill Medicare for more than $30,000 a year and care for more than 100 Medicare patients a year are affected. Providers with less than that are not affected and not part of the program.3  This includes:

  • Physician
  • Physician assistant
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Clinical nurse specialist
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist

 

Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs)

The Advanced APMs program allows certain providers to apply for the APM track. This gives added incentive payments to provide high-quality and cost-efficient care. See the APM website for more information on the special programs and how providers can apply:

https://qpp.cms.gov/learn/apms

 

The Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS)

Most Medicare Providers will be part of MIPS. They will earn a payment adjustment based on evidence-based and practice-specific quality data submitted. According to CMS, the Quality Payment Program policy will reform Medicare payments for more than 600,000 clinicians across the U.S.

Providers participating in the program in 2017 will submit their data by March 2018 and based on submission, their 2019 Medicare payments will be adjusted up, down, or not at all. 

MIPS is broken down into four categories and is setup so that the more Providers participate (and attest to), the higher score (and incentive) providers will get. A Medicare provider who does not participate at all (0%) may see up to 4% negative adjustment in 2019. A provider with a minimal amount of participation (e.g. submit one measure) may be able to avoid adjustment. For partial submission (submit the minimums for a partial year) they will see neutral or positive adjustments, and submit a full year and earn a positive payment adjustment.

CMS has setup a new website for the Quality Program4 which breaks down the four components of the MIPS:

  • Quality (replaces PQRS)   (60%)
  • Improvement Activities (new)  (25%)
  • Advancing Care Information (replaces Meaningful Use)   (15%)
  • Cost (replaces Value Based Modifier)   (0% in 2017)

Image Credit:  MIPS Quality Payment Program Website:  https://qpp.cms.gov/measures/performance

 

If we take a quick look at how each category works:

  •  Quality
    •  Most Providers will report up to 6 quality measures (including an outcome type measure). Quality measures selected should be focused based on type of care and specialty as appropriate.
    •  Reporting period must be a minimum of 90 days.
    • There are over 250 quality measures available, be sure to check your health record software system to see which ones they support (can help gather data for you) when planning.
    • Measures go across many specialties and problem sets:  For example, “Age Appropriate Screen Colonoscopy” – Report the percentage of patients greater than 85 years old seen by the Provider who received a colonoscopy screening Jan 1 to December 31.
  •  Improvement Activities
    • Most Providers will attest to completing a minimum of 4 improvement activities for at least 90 days.
    • As of the writing of this blog, the CMS tools shows 92 activities to choose from.
    • Activities range from care coordination, patient safety changes and beneficiary engagements.
    • Examples: Join and participate (for a minimum of 6 months) in your States Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP). Or another example: Engage patients, family and caregivers in developing a plan of care and prioritizing their goals for action, documented in the certified EHR technology.
  • Advancing Care Information
    • Use a qualified (certified) product (or products) for a minimum of 90 days.
    • There are two different programs to pick from depending on your Electronic Health Record Software Certification. For 2017, you will be able to use either a 2014 Certified Product (previously called Stage 2 MU Certification) or a 2015 certified product (certified for the MU Final Ruling criteria). Attest to a minimum of:
      • E-Prescribing
      • Provide Patient Access
      • Send Summary of Care Records
      • Receive Summary of Care Records
      • Report up to 9 additional measures for bonus credits
  • Cost
    • No actions required: Cost will be computing from your claims
    • The cost category will be calculated in 2017, but will not be used to determine your payment adjustment. In 2018, CMS will start using the cost category to determine your payment adjustment.

 

Medicare Providers will want to research the programs and decide their level of participation early in 2017. Full year participation would require making sure their Electronic Health Record system is setup for minimal data tracking and other required features like E-Prescribing and Direct Messaging.

 

References

  1. 2017 Program requirements:

    https://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Legislation/EHRIncentivePrograms/2017ProgramRequirements.html

  2. MIPS and MACRA:

    http://www.impact-advisors.com/meaningful-use/mips-macra-mu-the-next-evolution-of-healthcare-payment-reform/#sthash.vMkVGSvN.dpuf

  3. https://qpp.cms.gov/docs/Quality_Payment_Program_Overview_Fact_Sheet.pdf

  4. MIPS Quality Payment Program Website: 

    https://qpp.cms.gov/measures/performance

E-Prescribing of Controlled Substances Available in All 50 States

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Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substances (EPCS) is now legal in all 50 States.  Missouri and Vermont were the last two states to authorize electronic prescribing of controlled substances.  Missouri’s regulations became effective July 30th, 2015.  Today, August 28th, Vermont became the final state to allow prescribers to legally prescribe controlled substances electronically for schedule II-V drugs.  Prescribers can now electronically prescribe controlled substances at any participating pharmacy in the United States. 

National EPCS availability is a key step in combating prescription drug fraud and abuse.  With the adoption of EPCS, patients will no longer be able to forge paper prescriptions.  Drug seeking behaviors and patterns will also be easier to identify and respond to.  With the increased electronic connectivity of pharmacies, medication histories will be more readily available.  All of these factors will also create a much safer environment for patients. 

The state of New York has passed legislation requiring prescribers to do all of their prescribing electronically starting in March next year.  As that deadline draws near and potentially other states follow, it will be necessary to stay current and have a viable EPCS solution.  Currently, the national average of pharmacies enabled for EPCS is 80.3%. Now that EPCS is legal in all states and as more states make EPCS a requirement, we expect to see more and more pharmacies coming online and allowing receipt of EPCS. 

MDToolbox offers both a certified stand-alone e-Prescribing solution, as well as an integratable solution for EHR or PM systems to add full e-Prescribing capabilities or add on just EPCS capabilities. MDToolbox is ready to help prescribers and software companies through the DEA requirements to get fully prescribing controlled and non-controlled substances electronically. Check out our EPCS page or contact us at info@mdtoolbox.com for more info.  

Less than 2% of Prescribers Utilizing EPCS

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Surescripts recently released its 2014 National Progress Report and one of the most startling findings is that only 1.4% of providers are enabled for Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substances (EPCS).1

A much larger percent of pharmacies are setup to utilize EPCS. The national average of pharmacies enabled for EPCS is 74.9%.  A state by state comparison of the percent of pharmacies with EPCS capability, can be found on our EPCS page.

Even though EPCS is now legal in 49 states and D.C., its growth has been rather slow compared to the rates of non-controlled e-Prescribing. Surescripts’ report also found that 67%, or 1.2 billion, of all new prescriptions in 2014 were e-Prescribed. However, while there was a 400% increase in controlled substance e-Prescribing from 2013 to 2014, the number of controlled substance prescriptions was only 1.67 million.

 

Out of almost 70,000 total pharmacies and more than half a million e-Prescribing prescribers, the amount of pharmacies utilizing EPCS far surpasses the amount of prescribers.

 

While the statistics are surprising considering EPCS has been legal since 2010, there are several factors involved in the low percentage of prescribers. These include issues such as their software not being ready to meet the DEA requirements, as well as the number of steps that prescribers must go through to be setup for EPCS.

Though the steps involved may seem complex, e-Prescribing vendors are doing their best to make the process as smooth as possible for prescribers to utilize this important technology. MDToolbox has created a simple 4-step process that walks prescribers through completing the DEA requirements for EPCS that can be completed within minutes.* We also provide this EPCS solution as an integration option so that EHRs and other technology vendors can add the streamlined process to their existing workflow.

There are several benefits of EPCS including increasing patient safety and security, as well as reducing fraud and abuse. The easier it is for prescribers to setup and use EPCS, the more likely they will be to take advantage of the benefits and increase their usage.

Click here for more on EPCS for prescribers

Click here for more on EPCS for technology vendors

*Time varies based on token selection and results of identity verification

1.  2014 National Progress Report http://surescripts.com/news-center/national-progress-report-2014#public

Texas Department of Public Safety Guidelines for EPCS

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The recent rescheduling of hydrocodone combination products and the requirement to use special approved prescription paper for Schedule II drugs in Texas, has caused many prescribers to turn to e-Prescribing as an alternative. As prescribers look to this electronic alternative, there are several questions that come up as the Texas Department of Public Safety (Texas DPS) has given out some state specific guidelines. Here’s what prescribers need to know:

Is e-Sending Schedule II drugs allowed in Texas?

In October of 2013 the Texas DPS accepted the same requirements, with a few updates of their own, as the DEA in regards to sending Schedule II controlled substances electronically. 1

What are the Texas State Guidelines?

In order to comply with the Texas DPS guidelines, there are several things prescribers must be aware of and know before they start using an EPCS program. Prescribers must make sure that their vendor is certified by the DEA, meaning that they passed the required third party audit. Prescribers will also want to be sure that the vendor has EPCS capability activated for their state. Prescribers must also make sure that all their necessary credentials are included when e-Sending a prescription.

DPS, DEA and APN Numbers

The numbers prescribers now put down for paper prescriptions, their DPS, DEA and APN numbers for advanced practice nurses must also be on their electronic prescriptions as well. When prescribers are setting up their e-prescribing account they want to make sure that this information can be entered in the appropriate fields.

APNs will also enter their prescriptive authority identification number for all prescriptions written.  APNs and physicians assistants with prescriptive authority should also keep in mind they must include the DEA and DPS number of their supervising practitioner on all prescriptions schedules III-V.2

Control Numbers

Paper prescriptions written in the state of Texas for schedule II drugs require that each prescription be printed on DPS required paper that has a unique Control Number listed for the pharmacy to record. With e-prescribing all control number information, locating, and documenting is now handled entirely on the pharmacies end electronically.

What Does This Mean Now?

Texas DPS completed their beta testing of EPCS March 1, 2014. The purpose of which was to monitor Schedule II prescriptions for abuse, prescribing patterns, patients attempting to get prescriptions from multiple doctors, and fraudulent prescriptions. Also, to make sure all reporting on both the provider’s end and the pharmacy’s end was done accurately and in a timely manner.

After the results of the testing came back, the outcome was clear. Provider’s information was safer, as their DPS and DEA numbers were no longer floating around on written prescriptions for people to try to forge prescriptions with. The DPS information is also now easier and faster to track with everything being electronic. Patients’ information was also safer and relayed faster as there was no longer the constant need to rely on a phone or fax for patient information that may or may not have made it to the desired party on the other end.

Electronically prescribing controlled substances has proven to not only be a viable alternative to paper prescriptions in Texas, but an improvement. To get more information on EPCS or to start sending controlled substance electronically contact us at info@mdtoolbox.com or visit our EPCS page.

  1. https://www.pharmacy.texas.gov/EPCS.asp
  2. http://www.dps.texas.gov/RSD/ControlledSubstances/News/index.htm.

Top 5 Mistakes in Writing Quality E-Prescriptions

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Electronic prescribing (e-Prescribing) has been praised for increasing patient safety by providing clearer prescriptions and reducing medication errors.  Pharmacists no longer have to worry about interpreting the prescriber’s handwriting.  However, it has been found that even with e-Prescribing, more than 10% of prescriptions still contain an error1.  These errors can be highly dangerous, or even deadly.  Here we list out our top 5 mistakes found in electronic prescriptions (e-prescriptions) and solutions to prevent them.

    1.  Wrong Drug Name or Strength

One of the most dangerous medication errors is prescribing the wrong drug or strength.  E-Prescribing prevents errors that occur from illegible writing, but incorrect medication errors can still occur.  In many e-Prescribing systems, the prescriber selects the drug to prescribe from a lookup.  It is easy to see how a rushed prescriber could make a mis-click and pick the wrong drug or strength.  Additionally, several drugs have similar names.  If prescribers are not careful, they can easily confuse them with each other.  Of all medication errors, the FDA reports that about 10% come from drug name confusion2.  Several drugs have different strengths and some have different dosage routes as well.  For example, Ofloxacin is available in both a 0.3% opthamalic solution and a 0.3% otic solution.  Choosing the wrong route could have serious effects.  Selecting the wrong drug, strength, or route could even be fatal.  This is why it is critical that prescribers double check these fields when selecting a drug to e-prescribe. 

A good way to prevent picking the wrong drug name is to use e-Prescribing software that includes tall man lettering to help in selecting look-alike drug names.  These drug names include both lower and upper case letters in order to draw attention to the differences in their names.  For example, two similarly named insulins are listed as NovoLOG and NovoLIN to differentiate between them.

2.  Unclear Directions

The most important part of a prescription for the patient is the directions.  If the patient does not understand how to take/use the prescription, they will not get the intended results and it could be potentially harmful.  A common mistake in e-prescriptions is to write directions that include abbreviations, are incomplete, or that say something generic like “Take as directed.”

The directions must be written out fully in terms that the patient will understand.  They should not include any abbreviations or anything that the pharmacist would need to interpret or rewrite.   While pharmacists may understand the abbreviations, the reality is the busy pharmacist (or rather pharmacist assistant) will quickly re-write it or a computer program will re-write it for them and the translation is many times incorrect.   These mistakes can be fatal.  For example, the FDA reported a patient died when 20 units of insulin was abbreviated as "20 U," and the "U" was mistaken for a "zero"3.  The patient received an incorrect dose of 200 units as a result.

Prescribers must also not assume the patient will remember the directions they gave them orally – Including the full directions in the electronic message to the pharmacist gives the patient written clear directions they can check if they cannot remember what the prescriber told them.  Directions should always include when, how often, and how to take the medication

It is also important to make sure any numbers written in the directions are safely written.  Decimal points can be easily missed.  For example, 1.0 could be quickly read as 10 or .1 could be read as 1.  Prescribers should never include a decimal point and a trailing zero (X.0mg) but should always include a leading zero before a decimal point (0.Xmg).  It is recommended to try to avoid the use of zeroes by using alternative units of measure – for example use “50 micrograms” instead of “0.05 milligrams.” 

3.  Including Directions in the Wrong Place

Another common mistake in e-prescriptions is including direction information in a note or comment field.  The note field is a helpful field that allows prescribers to add additional free text information that is not part of the prescription.  However, this field should never be used for drug name, directions, the number of days, or any important information.  Many prescribers feel the need to include direction information in the note field because their e-Prescribing software does not allow them to enter custom directions.  It is quite challenging to prescribe medications that require tapering or titrations if the prescriber can only enter pre-structured directions.  The problem is most of the pharmacy software does not show the note information on the main dispensing screen and this makes it easy for the pharmacist to miss it.  This can then cause the pharmacist to include incorrect or incomplete directions.  Prescribers sometimes include conflicting direction information in the pharmacy note box as well.  For example a conflict might look like:

Directions:   3 times a day

Free Text Note:  1 GTT Q4 OD – patient has a coupon 

If the pharmacist fills based on directions, they have no idea how much the patient should take three times a day.  If the pharmacist happens to check the free text note field, they now know how much but have conflicting “how often”.  This causes the pharmacist to have to contact the prescriber for clarification and slows down the entire process of e-Prescribing.  This is why it is critical for prescribers to include the full directions in the directions box and only use the pharmacy note field for additional information.  A proper prescription might look like:

Directions:   1 drop in the right ear every  4 hours daily

Free Text Note:  Patient has a coupon

Using e-Prescribing software that allows prescribers to easily free text any custom directions needed, as well as customize their sig and direction lookups, is a great solution for preventing information being placed in the wrong field.  Using these solutions, as opposed to solutions where prescribers can only select pre-structured directions or have to complete complicated extra steps to have detailed directions, is an ideal way to avoid this information from being unseen or conflicting. 

4.  Incorrect Dosage

Another highly dangerous medication error is prescribing the wrong dosage.  It is easy for a prescriber to make a mistake when converting units of measurement or calculating a dose.  These mistakes can result in doses 10 or 100 times the intended amount.  For example, an infant recently died after receiving an overdose of morphine when a 3.5mg dose was given rather than what should have been a 0.35mg dose.  There have been many other cases where these kinds of mistakes have led to fatalities as well.  This is why it is important for prescribers to check and double check the dose they are prescribing. 

A great solution for prescribers is to use an e-Prescribing system that includes dosing references and a dosing calculator at the point of prescribing.   These calculators help prevent calculation errors and give warnings if the calculated doses are too high.  These are especially useful for pediatrics per weight based dosing.  In some systems, like MDToolbox, it will even convert mg per kg to mL automatically if needed for prescribers.  

5.  Wrong Quantity

Prescribers also make the mistake of including a quantity for either the number of days the prescription is for or the amount to be dispensed that is wrong in e-prescriptions.  Prescribing more or less of a medication than intended can have serious effects.   This is why it is important for prescribers to double check the dispense amount and the number of days it should last.  It is important that these amounts do not contradict each other or the directions, otherwise the pharmacist will not know which is the correct amount.

An example of a contradicting prescription:    

Directions:  Take 1 Tablet Daily for 5 days by Mouth

Days Supply:   5

Dispense #:  20

How many should the pharmacist dispense?   Does the patient need to take 20 pills over the next five days?   Or, do they only need to take one daily for five days and thus, only five tablets should be dispensed?  A patient could have serious adverse effects if they take the wrong amount of a prescription.  To ensure safe prescribing, a quality prescription should look like:

Directions:  Take 1 Tablet Daily by Mouth

Days Supply:   5

Dispense #:  5

To further prevent quantity errors, prescribers can use software (like MDToolbox) that helps them with auto calculating these amounts based on the directions and either the selected number of days or dispense number.

In addition to avoiding these mistakes, there are further steps prescribers should take to prevent medication errors.  They should always take the time to double check the complete prescription information before hitting e-Send.  Taking this small extra step can help catch a lot of unnecessary errors.  Prescribers should also make sure that the patient is clear about which prescription they are prescribing for them and the proper way to take/use it.  This way the patient can double check they are receiving the right prescription from the pharmacy and be able to use it as intended.  Prescribers should also use e-Prescribing software that allows them to print patient leaflets, as well as a medication summary that lists the prescriptions to give to the patient.  Medication summaries are a good way to remind the patient which medications were prescribed, how often to take them and which pharmacy they were e-Sent to. 

E-Prescribing continues to improve prescription safety.   We can take patient safety to the next level and minimize medication errors even further with a combination of prescribers following a few simple guidelines, double checking their prescriptions and using patient safety focused e-Prescribing software.   

If you have comments or suggestions for our blog or would like to learn more about MDToolbox’s e-Prescribing solutions we would love to hear from you!  Please leave a comment below, use our contact form or email us any time at info@mdtoolbox.com

 

  1. Nanji KC, et al "Errors associated with outpatient computerized prescribing systems" J Am Med Inform Assoc 2011; DOI:10.1136/amiajnl-2011-000205.
  2. Rados C. “Drug name confusion: preventing medication errors.” FDA Consumer Magazine. 2005;39. www.fda.gov/fdac.
  3. "Strategies to Reduce Medication Errors: Working to Improve Medication Safety." U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 12 Apr. 2013. Web. 09 Jan. 2014.