A national plan should be developed for widespread distribution and promotion of medication safety information. Health care provider, community-based, consumer, and government organizations should serve as the foundation for such efforts.
Safe medication use requires that clinicians synthesize several types of information, including knowledge of the medication itself, as well as understanding of how it may interact with coexisting illnesses and medications and how its use might be monitored. Several electronic supports can help providers absorb and apply the necessary information.
The underlying knowledge base is constantly changing, creating a situation in which it is almost impossible for health care providers to have current knowledge of every medication they prescribe. Clinicians therefore need access to critical syntheses of the evidence base. The Cochrane Collaboration (CC, 2005) is one such resource. In addition, many software applications now being developed provide decision support for prescribing clinicians (Epocrates, 2005). Applications of this type are typically available via the Internet or on personal digital assistants (PDAs). All prescribers should use point-of-care reference information.
Paper-based prescribing is associated with high error rates (Kaushal et al., 2003). Having all pharmacies receive prescriptions electronically would result in fewer errors than occur with current paper or oral approaches (Bates, 2001). Electronic prescribing is safer (Bates et al., 1998) because it eliminates handwriting and ensures that the key fields (for example, drug name, dose, route, and frequency) include meaningful data. More important, as noted above, computerization enables the delivery of clinical decision support (Evans et al., 1998), including checks for allergies, drug–drug interactions, overly high doses, and clinical conditions, as well as suggestions for appropriate dosages given the patient’s level of renal function and age. It should be noted that recent studies have identified implementation problems and the unintended occurrence of new types of errors with these computerized approaches (for example, pharmacy inventory displays of available drug doses being mistaken for the usual or minimally effective doses). Avoiding these problems requires addressing business and cultural