Background: Medication errors occur frequently, result in significant morbidity and mortality, and are often preventable. A multifaceted intervention was conducted to reduce prescribing errors in handwritten medication orders written by house staff. Methods: A before-and-after design was used to evaluate the intervention - which included grand rounds, an interactive presentation for house staff, and reminders (a checklist, chart inserts, and requests for clarification) - and targeted 20 safe prescribing behaviors. Results: At baseline, prescribing errors were more common among surgical house staff than medical house staff (1.08 errors/order versus 0.76 errors/order, p < .001). Only 1% of orders contained an overt error, but 49% were incomplete, 27% contained dangerous dose and frequency abbreviations, and 17% were illegible. Postintervention, the mean number of prescribing errors per order decreased for surgical house staff from 1.08 (standard deviation [SD], 0.23) to 0.85 (SD, 0.11; p < .001), with a more marked effect for house staff who attended the didactic portion of the intervention. In addition, the mean number of the more significant errors per order decreased from 0.65 (SD, 0.19) to 0.45 (SD, 0.13; p < .001), and significant decreases occurred in the proportion of orders that were incomplete, were illegible, and contained an overt error. However, prescribing errors per order increased in orders written by medical house staff from 0.76 (SD, 0.14) to 0.98 (SD, 0.11; p < .001). Discussion: The intervention was associated with a modest improvement in the quality of medication orders written by surgical house staff. To reduce prescribing errors, multilevel interventions are needed, including training in safe prescribing for all physicians. Such training may need to be started in medical school and augmented and reinforced throughout residency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)528-536
Number of pages9
JournalJoint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2008


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