Health system cuts med errors by 29%

The implementation of an online order entry system at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor has produced a 29% reduction in medication errors while at the same time cutting by 40% the time between ordering and administering urgent medications.

The health system took nearly three years to implement the computerized physician order entry (CPOE) system, but the benefits became obvious right away, says Robert Kelch, MD, executive vice president for Medical Affairs and CEO of the U-M Health System. The system, known as U-M CareLink, required training for thousands of faculty and staff members, Kelch says. "We have used information technology to make our patients' care better and safer, and our workflow more efficient," he says. "This is a major enhancement to our already advanced medical information capabilities."

Since June 2007, nearly 5,300 staff, including nurses and respiratory therapists, physicians, techs/ancillary staff, clerks, and administrative staff were trained. More than 1,966 desktops, laptops and requisition printers were deployed, Kelch says.

The system was first implemented in the Women's Hospital, including the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, in October 2006. It was implemented at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in February 2007 and C. S. Mott Children's Hospital in June 2007.

Douglas L. Strong, MBA, CEO of University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers, says the benefits have not come easily. Implementing such a system was a daunting task because of the size of the health system, which has 913 inpatient beds, he says.

"This has been a massive undertaking in the U-M Health System," Strong says. "Every day, tens of thousands of orders are written, carried out, and documented in our three hospitals and major hospital-based treatment areas. In just a few years, we have successfully moved all of those handwritten orders online. The results in the key areas where we have already implemented UM-CareLink have been impressive."

Using the CPOE system, clinicians can order tests, procedures, medications, and nutrition services online, from almost computer in the hospital, eliminating the need for paper forms. It also lets them get instant access to patient allergies, potential drug interactions and other information, enabling patient safety at the highest levels. The system allows providers to order patient medication electronically and tracks patient handoffs between caregivers and departments, minimizing risks associated with multiple providers caring for one patient.

In addition to improving safety by alerting caregivers to allergies and potential errors, the system also is more efficient than the traditional method of handwriting orders, Kelch says. "It reduces the time it takes to get medication from the hospital pharmacy to the patient's bedside," he says.