Why Computers Don't Save Lives in the Hospital

Being the tech geek I am, a story in today's Washington Post illustrates one more reason death by medicine is far more than a pet catch-phrase of mine.

Seems a tenured physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles had always been mixing up the wrong dosage for a certain prescription medication for some time. One time, the physician wrote that same script for 10 times the correct dosage. Supposedly, every time he did, the error, caught by nurses and others accustomed to the doctor's handwriting, was caught and fixed. When a new computer system arrived on the scene, making the physician's work faster and error-free, however, the system balked at his routine errors.

After questioning the automated warning, staffers discovered the "dirty little secret": For two decades, that physician had been prescribing the wrong dose. But, instead of using that example to guide the administration of medicine at Cedars-Sinai into the 21st century, staffers rebelled forcing the hospital to shelve its $34 million computer system after only three months in 2002. And administrators won't do anything about it until next year at the earliest.

Amazingly, only some 6 percent of hospitals nationwide have computerized systems for doctors' orders right now. Some blamed the problem on a flinty computer system that wasn't flexible enough or it took too much time to key in information. Nevertheless, I believe Cedars-Sinai's head of nursing probably hit the nail on the problem: "First and foremost, it was change."

This one aspect probably has much to do with one of the more popular articles on my site over the past year -- Modern Health Care System is the Leading Cause of Death -- a gripping follow up to Doctors Are The Third Leading Cause of Death in the US, Causing 250,000 Deaths Every Year.

Change is the best and only way to protect your health for the short term and optimize it for the long term which is why I remain so dedicated to my vision for the future of health care.

Washington Post March 21, 2005

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