Many Hospitals Resist Computerized Patient Care

For years, technology has been held out as an important way to curb the scourge of medical errors. President Bush and Senator John Kerry have each called for a bigger commitment to computerization to reduce the 98,000 avoidable deaths a year that an eye-opening federal report in 1999 said might be caused by mistakes of doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel.

Yet even now, despite pressure from large employers, unions and health care advocacy groups — and aggressive marketing by vendors — only a few dozen medical centers across the country are making full use of the latest computerized patient safety systems.

The systems are intended to overcome problems as common as illegible handwriting on doctors’ prescriptions that cause patients to receive the wrong drugs or doses, or result in one physician’s not knowing what another has ordered.

Still, hospitals and doctors say they have good reason to be cautious about the new technology. Many doubt that the computerized systems will ever repay their multimillion-dollar costs, according to Janet Corrigan, a health care financing and quality expert at the Institute of Medicine, which published the 1999 report and a follow-up in 2001 that called for eliminating “most handwritten clinical data by the end of the decade.”

They also fear that current technology will be outmoded or cost much less in a few years. And many doctors complain that using the systems to write prescriptions and order tests takes time away from seeing patients and running their offices on already stressful workdays.

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This article was compiled and edited by CIO Update staff. Please direct any questions regarding its content to Allen Bernard, Managing Editor, [email protected].