What is the impact of technology on pediatric ICU prescribing errors

"The replacement of weight-based infusions with SCIs was associated with significant reductions in infusion prescribing errors" Howlett et al (2020).


BACKGROUND: Increased use of health information technology (HIT) has been advocated as a medication error reduction strategy. Evidence of its benefits in the pediatric setting remains limited. In 2012, electronic prescribing (ICCA, Philips, United Kingdom) and standard concentration infusions (SCIs)-facilitated by smart-pump technology-were introduced into the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) of an Irish tertiary-care pediatric hospital.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study is to assess the impact of the new technology on the rate and severity of PICU prescribing errors and identify technology-generated errors.

METHODS: A retrospective, before and after study design, was employed. Medication orders were reviewed over 24 weeks distributed across four time periods: preimplementation (Epoch 1); postimplementation of SCIs (Epoch 2); immediate postimplementation of electronic prescribing (Epoch 3); and 1 year postimplementation (Epoch 4). Only orders reviewed by a clinical pharmacist were included. Prespecified definitions, multidisciplinary consensus and validated grading methods were utilized.

RESULTS: A total of 3,356 medication orders for 288 patients were included. Overall error rates were similar in Epoch 1 and 4 (10.2 vs. 9.8%; p = 0.8), but error types differed (p < 0.001). Incomplete and wrong unit errors were eradicated; duplicate orders increased. Dosing errors remained most common. A total of 27% of postimplementation errors were technology-generated. Implementation of SCIs alone was associated with significant reductions in infusion-related prescribing errors (29.0% to 14.6% ; p < 0.001). Further reductions (8.4% ) were identified after implementation of electronically generated infusion orders. Non-infusion error severity was unchanged (p = 0.13); fewer infusion errors reached the patient (p < 0.01). No errors causing harm were identified.

CONCLUSION: The limitations of electronic prescribing in reducing overall prescribing errors in PICU have been demonstrated. The replacement of weight-based infusions with SCIs was associated with significant reductions in infusion prescribing errors. Technology-generated errors were common, highlighting the need for on-going research on HIT implementation in pediatric settings.


Howlett, M.M., Butler, E., Lavelle, K.M., Cleary, B.J. and Breatnach, C.V. (2020) The Impact of Technology on Prescribing Errors in Pediatric Intensive Care: A Before and After Study. Applied Clinical Informatics. 11(2), p.323-335. doi: 10.1055/s-0040-1709508.

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