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Computer alerts 'contribute to GP prescription errors'

Exclusive: GP prescribing decisions are being compromised by a barrage of unspecific and extraneous computer alerts, according to the largest ever analysis of primary care prescribing data.

Pulse revealed last week the RCGP was drawing up plans to change the GP curriculum after the GMC-commissioned PRACTICE study – due to be published later this year - found one in 20 GP prescriptions had an error.

Detailed results now obtained by Pulse find 4% of GP prescriptions contained prescribing errors and a further 1% monitoring errors. Common errors included prescribing the wrong dose, not checking interactions, or not organising required checks – such as creatinine tests after prescribing an ACE inhibitor.

The findings do though suggest GPs are less prone to error than specialists, after a similar analysis in 2009 found an overall prescribing error rate of 9% in hospital, and a 6% prescribing error rate for consultants.

Researchers also interviewed GPs and found a lack of specificity in hazard alerts and workload were commonly cited reasons for making mistakes, alongside communication errors between primary and secondary care and defects in repeat prescription procedures.

Study leader Professor Tony Avery, professor of primary healthcare at the University of Nottingham and a GP in the city, said safety alert technology had not moved on over the past five or six years: ‘There some fairly simple things IT systems can do; cutting down the number of non-serious alerts and making the alerts specific to that patient.'

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