The American healthcare system is renowned worldwide for its quality, but is not without its problems. According to research by Johns Hopkins, 250,000 people die due to medical errors every year in the USA – and according to researcher Martin Makary, part of this is down to incorrect prescriptions. Seeking to counter this challenge is big data, technology and innovation; making the prescription process quicker, easier, and more precise.

Like many other industries, technology in the medical industry moves at breakneck speed. From augmented organs to patient-owned medical records on smart devices, technology is shaping user experience. Getting it right first time is crucial in the medical sphere, and crucial for high quality prescriptions.

The scale of the prescription error problem – and why it’s happening

With the effects of poor prescriptions often felt long after the mistake is made, cases of error are often less high-profile than surgical negligence and their ilk. However, the scale of the prescription mistake problem can’t be underestimated, and the influential British Medical Journal linked the opioid epidemic to inappropriate prescriptions in 2017. Between inappropriate and inaccurate prescriptions, the problem is evident. The reason for inappropriate prescriptions are wide ranging, but commonly it involves a misinterpretation of symptoms and requirements by the doctor, as exemplified by inaccurate diabetes mellitus prescriptions. With pressures on the medical industry crystallized by changes in the ACA, a shortage of doctors – estimated at 45,000+ by the Association of American Medical Colleges – and a rising population, it’s understandable why mistakes can be made.

How big data and technology can help

One of the key reasons behind the ongoing trend in mis-prescription is a lack of feedback. A 2017 study by JMIR Human Factors in Manchester, UK, found that prescribers received little feedback on their errors. By utilizing a digital prescription management system, the study found a way to map common errors and outcomes – using big data to ‘smart’ learn common causes and ways of prevention. Furthermore, using sophisticated technology in conjunction with patient records helped to flag up potentially catastrophic errors. This has a positive long term impact, both in terms of patient experience, the avoidance of harm and litigation, and reputation.

Of course, this has thrown up questions concerning patient privacy at a time when privacy is the big topic on the media’s lips, and with HIPAA already collecting $3.6m in fines this year. These considerations will likely be at the forefront of any medical digital developers mind.

Poor prescription practices cause damage and cost insurers and doctors dearly every year. However, with the advent of technology, things are looking promising to get it right first time – every time.

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