Hong Kong's public hospitals must fast-track electronic system for prescriptions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 June, 2015, 2:12am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 June, 2015, 2:12am

Medication errors remain the main cause of "serious untoward events" in Hong Kong's public hospitals, with the most frequent being the wrong dosage for inpatients, followed by wrong patient and/or wrong drug. The total number of medication errors rose from 1,399 in 2010 to 1,913 in 2013. This does not make Hong Kong stand out in a bad light among places with first-class health care systems. A 1999 report by the American Institute of Medicine, To Err is Human, attributed 44,000 to 98,000 deaths a year to medical blunders, mostly drug-related in the case of hospital errors. According to a much more recent study from the prestigious Journal of Patient Safety, four times as many people may die from preventable medical error than thought.

In Hong Kong, even though most errors caused no problems or the wrong drugs were not actually administered, the figures remain cause for concern, given that most patients attend public hospitals and doctors have a duty of care to them.

Society of Hospital Pharmacists president William Chui Chun-ming says the well-documented problem of doctors' heavy workload is a factor in medication problems, aggravated by insufficient knowledge and experience of drugs after only six months of pharmacology training at medical school. He says public hospital doctors often do not have time to study the full medication profile of their patients.

One problem we share with many overseas hospitals is an outdated dispensary system with excessive manual input subject to human error. Under changes being trialled, doctors prescribe and pharmacists dispense electronically in a system that cross checks against a patient's medication profile, including allergies, and matches drugs to identity bracelets.

The Hospital Authority credits the system, set to be installed in 17 hospitals by the end of 2018, with a 30 per cent reduction in medication errors in some institutions, including those caused by handwriting. There could not be a stronger case for fast-tracking its introduction in public and private hospitals.