presenting safety alerts according to severity and/or clinical importance. Instead, providers are sometimes inundated with too many alerts, which can result in “alert fatigue.” Third, many systems lack intelligent mechanisms for relating patient-specific data to allowable overrides, such as those associated with a particular patient and drug allergy alert or duplicate therapy request.

The ability of clinicians to use health information technologies successfully depends on how well the technologies have been designed at the level of human-machine interaction (i.e., the user interface). Displaying information in a cluttered, illogical, or confusing manner leads to decreased user performance and satisfaction. Moreover, a poorly designed user interface can contribute to medication errors. Addressing user interface issues requires greater attention to the cognitive and social factors influencing clinicians in their daily workflow and interaction with technologies (van Bemmel and Musen, 1997).

Recommendation 5: Industry and government should collaborate to establish standards affecting drug-related health information technologies. Specifically:

  • The NLM should take the lead in developing a common drug nomenclature for use in all clinical information technology systems, based on standards for the national health information infrastructure.

  • AHRQ should take the lead in organizing mechanisms for safety alerts according to severity, frequency, and clinical importance to improve clinical value and acceptance.

  • AHRQ should take the lead in developing intelligent prompting mechanisms specific to a patient’s unique characteristics and needs; provider prescribing, ordering, and error patterns; and evidence-based best-practice guidelines.

  • AHRQ should take the lead in developing user interface designs based on the principles of cognitive and human factors and the context of the clinical environment.

  • AHRQ should support additional research to determine specifications for alert mechanisms and intelligent prompting, as well as optimum designs for user interfaces.

Research on Medication Errors: Incidence Rates, Costs, and Prevention Strategies

In reviewing the research literature, the committee concluded that large gaps exist in our understanding of medication error incidence rates, costs,

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