As the world grows more digital every day, handwritten notes are becoming less and less common. One area where handwriting persists is health care, a field where professionals often write out prescriptions by hand.

This seemingly ancient trend is causing many problems. Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College discovered 37 prescription errors in every 100 prescriptions written by hand – compared with seven errors when doctors used electronic prescriptions.

These errors are potentially harmful to the patient, causing adverse drug effects or even death. About 7,000 patients die each year in the United States due to medication errors. They also waste time as pharmacists and physicians scramble to correct mistakes.

E-Prescriptions Reduce the Risk

Some doctors have switched to an e-prescribing method to electronically send prescriptions to the pharmacy. Several studies have shown that e-prescriptions lower the risk of errors and, in turn, the risk of adverse drug effects. Study results show a risk reduction of at least 13 percent, and sometimes as high as 99 percent. In addition to reducing errors, e-prescriptions help doctors discover if new medications will cause negative reactions due to the patient’s current medications.

Despite Benefits, Providers Slow to Adapt

Unfortunately, not enough doctors have switched to e-prescribing. For example, only 36 percent of prescriptions were ordered electronically in 2011. One reason is the expense of e-prescribing. Along with the ongoing hospital transitions to electronic patient records, costs can reach into the thousands or millions of dollars to implement an e-prescribing system. Only about 30 percent of hospitals have made the transition. Another reason for the reluctance to employ e-prescribing is the required investment in time for staff to constantly update records.

Also, even when hospitals switch to electronic records, they still may not require physicians to write electronic prescriptions. Many hospitals continue to give physicians the option of handwriting or using e-prescriptions.

Doctors may face legal liability for prescription errors that harm patients. Patients who have been adversely impacted by a prescription error should consider contacting a personal injury attorney to assist in obtaining compensation for their losses.

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